Network slicing, one of the key features of 5G Standalone technology, will unlock new sources of revenue for network operators and create new business models for communication service providers. This is according to ZTE spokesperson and principle scientist of NFV/SDN products, Jason Tu.
Tu was speaking at a Light Reading webinar about the lessons ZTE has learned through the pioneering work it did in 5G Standalone with network operators in China.
Previously, cellular network operators could only sell data packages to customers on a best-effort basis. The Standalone mode of 5G will allow operators to create customised slices within their network that can guarantee a certain level of service to subscribers who need it.
There are several ways these network slices may be implemented, and Tu highlighted three types of network slices that cellular operators might sell in future.
The three typical scenarios are: a “soft” slice where subscribers share a virtual private network, a “hard” slice that gives a client exclusive use of a private network, and a hybrid soft/hard slice that creates a hybrid private network.
With a soft slice, networks can guarantee certain levels of service, such as the minimum bandwidth or even latency of a connection.
Tu said that one of the first commercial applications of network slicing they envision is the use of a soft slice by gamers through a gaming service provider.
Gamers require stable, low-latency connections to play online games. Game streamers require not only low latency, but also guaranteed bandwidth to transmit high definition video to their viewers. The advent of subscription game streaming services like Google Stadia and GeForce Now will also require a combination of high bandwidth and low latency connections for gamers to get a good experience.
Through network slicing, a gaming service provider can sell Internet access with guaranteed quality of service to gamers.
“Gamers pay money to the gaming service provider, and the service provider then gets a network slice from the operator that gives quality of service guarantees,” Tu explained. “It’s a B2B2C business model.”
ZTE has deployed this model with Tencent, which is the biggest game service provider in China.
Another example of where software-based network slicing may be used is with video service providers. Subscribers might pay streaming video providers for guaranteed bandwidth to stream HD or UHD video, and the video service provider then pays the network operator for a slice with guaranteed bandwidth.
Hybrid soft/hard network slice
Another possible network slice configuration is the hybrid soft/hard slice, which Tu said they implemented at the Tianjin port.
This allows exclusive use of some network functions, enhancing security and providing dedicated resources for critical operations.
In particular, a quay crane was outfitted with a high definition camera and remote-control equipment, allowing the crane operator to manoeuvre the crane from an air-conditioned office rather than inside the crane.
This transformed the crane operator from a blue-collar worker to a white-collar worker overnight, and dramatically improved working conditions, Tu stated.
A hard slice gives the customer an exclusive, high security and completely isolated portion of the network.
This exclusivity filters all the way down to the physical radio network, where the client is given a dedicated carrier wave for their usage needs.
Tu said that mines are a good example of an industry that would use a “hard” slice in a 5G Standalone network.
Not only does it provide the highest level of security, it also provides high levels of reliability. If there is any interruption on the physical network that connects the underground and aboveground system, the underground services continue to function.
Network slicing: the most important feature of 5G Standalone
Speaking at the same webinar, Omdia principle analyst and practice leader Dario Telmesio said that the network slicing capabilities of 5G Standalone is probably the most appetising part of the technology.
His words echo the sentiments of Professor Tao Sun from the China Mobile Research Institute, who previously stated that network slicing is the most important feature of 5G’s Standalone mode.
The full potential of 5G will only be unlocked with the adoption of 5G Standalone and the availability of network slicing to enterprises and retail communications service providers.