5G Slicing – Thinking Outside the Box on Use Cases
Introduction – 5G and Use Cases
As well as supporting the existing operator mobile broadband business model in a very efficient and flexible way, 5G also enables a wide range of new Use Cases and deployment scenarios. The key phrase here is “wide range”, because it throws up significant issues for operators, who are used to defining and working with a fairly constrained service set that is primarily based on human communication and broadband access to internet-hosted content and apps.
To support the wide range of use cases, 5G, compared to previous generations, is much more capable in a number of key areas - including latency, reliability, energy use, efficient delivery of data, edge computing and security. Essentially, 5G delivers all the tools needed for operators to move beyond their traditional business models in support of the wide emerging range of connectivity requirements and scenarios.
The Potential Opportunities
But why should operators bother to move beyond highly successful traditional models (which are more cost-effective with 5G in any case), in order to exploit the additional features and performance of 5G? The answer lies in the sheer range and almost unlimited scope of those new use cases. As just about every other major industry “digitalises” and develops the way they do business, the volume of opportunities for operators (and others involved in the 5G ecosystem) will increase massively.
The big problem for operators is that most of the opportunities will be extremely niche, and therefore difficult to plan for as part of a “standard” service-set, in the long term. A fairly constrained service set might be fine for the operators’ traditional business models, but going forward they need to start thinking outside of the box in order to support the massively expanding set of connectivity requirements. Their thinking needs to fully embrace agility, innovation, creativity, customer-understanding, and partnerships.
From a practical point of view, operators (in particular) are dealing with such a complex system, not least in terms of the technical aspects of the network / connectivity, that true agility and innovation is very difficult to achieve. It has been tried before – when fairly basic digital services were first introduced into the telecoms service-set – and to a large extent failed spectacularly as the over-the-top players (Google, Netflix etc) gained the advantage.
Slicing - the Answer to the Complexity Problem?
So how? The answer is “Frameworks and Capabilities”. Ideally, operators need a library of full and partial solutions that reflect the key features and capabilities of 5G, ready to be delivered, or bolted together. This would provide the flexibility and agility, whilst taking out much of the complexity at the level of the actual use case. As the library of frameworks and capabilities build, the required innovation and creativity becomes much more achievable.
All of this is recognised within the 5G standards (3GPP) in various ways, but the “slicing” feature is probably the most recognisable. Slicing enables an operator to capture the configurations, and therefore the capabilities, for specific scenarios (whether those scenarios represent services, service sets, connectivity, or even security configurations). The network infrastructure itself is viewed as being a common resource, but the services are delivered as part of a slice that runs in that infrastructure.
Highly flexible, Slices can be defined as a full slice, or a in terms of sub-slices (perhaps defining just the RAN, or the Core Network portion). In particular, slices can be matched to even niche use cases and incorporate the required architecture and deployment models needed to deliver the specific performance objectives required to support that use case.
Essentially, the Slicing concept does not add any additional capability to the cellular system, but it does significantly improve the business’s ability to operate at a more optimal level of agility, creativity and innovation!
Maximising the Opportunities
Using slicing to enable agility at a technical level will be next to worthless if a business can’t respond to RFPs quickly enough, or finds it difficult to review and sign legal documents in a reasonable time-frame. Remove the agility / innovation blocks within the business, and slicing can be highly worthwhile – if the operator is looking to move beyond their traditional business models.
So, Slicing brings major benefits to service providers, whether they are traditional operators or new players who are enabled by 5G. But to properly realise the benefits, Slicing has to be seen as only part of the solution. True agility and Innovation can only be realised if the rest of the business is aligned, and this means THE REST OF THE BUSINESS – strategy, systems, processes, partnerships, customer-understanding, and crucially, corporate culture and mindset! We need to think outside of the box.
At Wray Castle, we can help you understand the technology and the business that it enables. Whether you are looking for a solid grasp of 5G or Slicing from a technical viewpoint, or looking for ideas to help shape your business in order to maximise those 5G and Connected Innovation opportunities – we have you covered!
You can find more information on our 5G Network Slicing course here.