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Still Much Easier to Slice Bread Than 5G NetworksStill Much Easier to Slice Bread Than 5G Networks

Network slicing was all the rage a couple of years ago, when 5G was just a twinkle in the operator's eye. Now that 5G networks are being deployed, just where is it?

Iain Morris

June 18, 2019

4 Min Read
Still Much Easier to Slice Bread Than 5G Networks

LONDON -- Connected Britain -- Sliced bread has been a revelation for people who can't use a breadknife without producing a doorstop, but sliced networks are not taking off in the same way.

Long touted as one of the most exciting and innovative aspects of 5G, network slicing has taken a bit of a pummeling in recent weeks as operators start to haul their new 5G networks out of the workshop.

One of the chief roadblocks is that standards have still not been finalized, and so products are not ready. "There is a lot of heavy lifting -- everyone is talking to vendors to get ready and there are some capabilities in Release 16 that make it more scalable from a security point of view," said Scott Petty, the chief technology officer of Vodafone UK, during a panel discussion at today's Connected Britain event in London. "Private LTE trials have relied on network slicing, but it is a couple of years away from broad availability and maturity and vendor products."

Release 16 refers to the next phase of 5G -- the 3GPP specifications that will tick a lot of the boxes left empty as operators plunged headfirst into "New Radio" and more mobile broadband. Trouble is, those specifications aren't due to be finalized until March 2020, and there is a risk of slippage. The deadline has already been delayed once amid reports of the heavy workload for 3GPP groups, and there are some jitters that a trade war between the US and China could derail standardization activities. Huawei, one of the main 3GPP contributors, is also the main Chinese target of US hostility.

Even assuming no further delays, decent products -- as Petty indicates -- are unlikely to become widely available until mid-2021.

In the meantime, the industry needs to figure out if enterprise customers really want network slicing, and if regulators will allow it. Neither is a certainty.

Demand is in some doubt following moves by some regulatory authorities to reserve spectrum for use by other industries. Germany left 100MHz of mid-band airwaves out of its recent auction for this purpose, upsetting operators in the process. The UK last week unveiled proposals to award spectrum in the 3.8-4.2GHz range to anyone who wants to build a local 5G network and thinks traditional operators aren't moving "fast enough," in the words of Mansoor Hanif, the chief technology officer of regulatory authority Ofcom. Japan and the Netherlands have similar plans, says Gabriel Brown, a principal analyst with Heavy Reading.

Zero in on how network technology investment drives 5G services strategies. Join us for the free 5G Network & Service Strategies breakfast workshop in LA at MWCA on October 22. Register now to learn from and network with industry experts; communications service providers get in free! The prospect of a factory owner building and operating its own 5G network raises questions about the need for network slicing, according to Steve Bell, another Heavy Reading analyst. "Where does network slicing play in this?" said Bell during a recent interview with Light Reading. "Mobile network operators are talking about slices into the enterprise, but if the enterprises can have their own networks then why are they taking slices?" Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri identifies the same issue. "If enterprises want control they will say I will build my own private network and I want control of the spectrum," he tells Light Reading. "Others say they will do it with network slicing from the operators." Of course, it is likely that relatively few businesses around the world acquire spectrum and build their own private networks. In cases where an enterprise would use network slicing, the question is whether regulators will allow it. Net neutrality, the ill-defined notion that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, is a potential obstacle to slicing, according to Arun Bansal, the head of Europe and Latin America for Ericsson. "If net neutrality is applied, the whole premise of network slicing will fall apart," he said on the same panel session that featured Vodafone's Petty. "There has to be some sense from a regulatory point of view." Just don't expect to see sliced networks baked and served up to hungry customers anytime soon. Related posts: HR's Steve Bell on 5G private networks UK May Get 'Thousands' of 5G New Entrants Under Proposed Shake-Up by Ofcom Germany raids telcos for €6.5B in epic 5G auction Ericsson not a fan of German spectrum plan Ericsson CEO: Net Neutrality Threatens 5G — Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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