5G future: Here's why you should care about 5G slicing

If you haven’t heard of network slicing by now, you’ve probably been living under a rock (or, you know, you’re not a person obsessed with 5G like us). The technology has been touted as part of the network of the future and a key way for operators to recoup 5G deployment costs. But what is a network slice exactly and why is slicing important?

Put simply, network slicing is an architecture in which a shared network is divided into multiple independent virtual networks, called slices. The idea is to optimize these slices, with their own resources and internal processes, to cater to the particular requirements of modern applications and services.

As Ericsson’s Director of External Communications Jannie Tong told Silverlinings: “Each network slice is allocated a portion of the overall network resources, including bandwidth, computing power and quality of service (QoS) parameters, to ensure that it can deliver the desired performance and meet the requirements of its intended use.”

There are different kinds of network slicing, but we get into that in a subsequent story.

Network slicing, at least conceptually, has existed since the late 1980’s and saw its first integration into Ethernet networks with the invention of the Ethernet virtual local area network (VLAN). However, it was not until the advent of software-defined networking (SDN) technologies in 2009, which extended the programmability of individual slices, that the potential of network slicing began to be realized.

Now, network slicing enables 5G service providers to create an array of purpose-built functions for their network optimized to deliver critical guarantees to customers regarding key concerns, such as minimum throughput per connection or priority delivery on specific applications.

Why is network slicing important?

The mobile network market has evolved to accommodate a growing number of services that are only increasing in nuance and complexity. Networks have become oversaturated with applications that have wildly different requirements. One application may require higher speeds, another, low latency and yet another access to edge computing software. This makes network slicing essential for developers and service providers. Recently, network slicing has been paired with artificial intelligence- (AI) and machine learning- (ML) based automation to reduce operational expenditures.

In addition, demand for 5G services is often difficult to predict. Network slicing has provided operators with the computing ability to address these issues by dividing the network into separate, optimized and upgradable functions. Furthermore, industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and transportation have taken special interest in network slicing for 5G, due to its potential to offer customized services and monetize 5G network services faster.

As Ericsson’s Tong explained, network slicing “plays a crucial role in enabling the flexibility, scalability and diverse capabilities of 5G networks.”

What’s the latest?

According to a market analysis report by Grand View Research, experts predicted the global network slicing market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50.7% to $12.48 billion in 2030. All of the leading equipment incumbents are developing 5G slicing capabilities, including Ciena, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and Intel.

A study conducted by Arthur D. Little at Ericsson’s behest determined healthcare, government, transportation, energy and utilities, manufacturing and media and entertainment will account for 90% of the addressable revenue opportunity presented by network slicing.

Earlier this month, Verizon successfully demonstrated the capabilities of end-to-end 5G network resource provisioning via network slicing. The test saw a 5G smartphone successfully connected to the different slices, with soft network slicing functionality allowing for the exchange of data throughout the network.  

The cloud angle

Network slicing has the potential to address an array of concerns for modern cloud applications.

Products like Network Slicing for Telco Cloud Automation from VMware already offer cloud-smart network slicing services to optimize existing resources. Google Cloud developers have also entered into partnerships with Ericsson and Nokia to utilize network slicing in the management of cloud networks for Google smartphones.

Indeed, network slicing plays — and will continue to play — a central role in enabling the flexibility, scalability and diverse capabilities of 5G networks. Many believe that slicing is the next step in network development and that it will unlock a new world of solutions to approach highly complex issues.

Learn more about network slicing:

T-Mobile launches first-ever 5G network slicing beta for developers

5G future: Five types of 5G slicing

How video comms could become a critical part of network slicing