GSMA Intelligence estimates that there will be 1.2 billion 5G connections by 2025, covering 40% of the global population, or about 2.7 billion people. 5G promises to usher in an era of incredibly fast, smart networks that will be more responsive and customisable than previous mobile generations. It represents an opportunity for operators to create an agile network that can be adapted to the different needs of specific vertical industries. These “tailor-made” networks can be adapted to serve different business needs, for example some organisations may require more bandwidth, increased security or a faster response time. This is known as network slicing.
The GSMA recently issued a report outlining how 5G network slicing can be used effectively by businesses. The report provides a number of case studies across a wide range of vertical industries including automotive, manufacturing and energy, amongst others. It also covers policy and regulatory considerations, as well as the potential impact of the changing business relationships between operators and vertical industries.
The report illustrates that network slicing offers a more efficient approach to building a mobile network, essentially creating multiple networks on a single common platform. These networks would run as virtual, independent business operations on this common physical infrastructure in an efficient and economical way. 5G can adapt to the external environment in a way that isn’t possible today.
Business customers will have access to highly customised network slices tailored to their very specific requirements in a cost-effective, timely and efficient way. It will also allow businesses to optimise their current services and create new offers that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
These customisable 5G network slices will enable businesses to enjoy connectivity and data processing tailored to their specific requirements and agreed with an operator through a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA could cover data speed, quality, latency, reliability, security and services. A network slice could also be deployed across multiple operators and use dedicated or shared resources such as processing power, storage or bandwidth, enabling significant cost efficiencies. It is anticipated that network operators could deploy a single network slice type to cover the needs of different verticals, as well as multiple network slices of different types to cover businesses that have diverse requirements.
The report also highlights a number of examples of how network slicing will work practically, outlining different vertical requirements, for example:
- Automotive: A modern “connected” vehicle requires an extremely versatile network that can deliver high throughput for in-car entertainment, ultra-reliability and low latency for autonomous driving, data gathering and analysis from telemetry sensors, device-to-device communication, and possibly more. It will also require a continuity of service when moving between different operator networks.
- Industry automation: A factory may require a slice for industrial automation production, allowing robots in a production line to be controlled and monitored.
- Massive IoT: Operators can deploy slices for different IoT users, making it easier to manage the network and enable faster deployment. For example, traffic management could utilise a massive IoT network slice to monitor and manage traffic in real time, then analyse and publish the data.
- AR/VR live broadcast: Sports events or music concerts could be broadcast live for users to enjoy through augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) technology. This would require a multimedia broadcast services function in the 5G network, high density computing to deal with AR/VR video processing, and quality of service to guarantee a good user experience.
Network slicing provides an exciting step towards realising new business opportunities in the 5G Era. In addition to this report, the GSMA is producing a series of papers on this subject in 2018 that will explore the application of network slicing, as well as the new commercial models that will help it to scale.