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'Long way to go' to commercial network slicing, says China expert

While China operators are running advanced network slicing trials, a senior researcher has warned the technology is a long way short of being commercially ready.

Zhang Jing, a standards engineers at the state think-tank China Information and Communications Technology Institute (CAICT), told a recent network slicing conference the technology still lacked maturity and vendor interoperability.

"There is still a certain gap between network slicing and commercial deployment," Zhang said. The industry had "a long way to go," and requires the efforts of all players in the industry chain.

Right now, there are still no defined approaches or interoperability in key slicing processes, such as coordination between access, transport and core networks, or in automating end-to-end deployment.

"Each manufacturer implements its own private solution, and end-to-end network slicing capabilities have not been verified," Zhang said.

With the freezing of 3GPP Release 16 earlier this week, network slicing is theoretically ready to be deployed soon in 5G networks. It is one of the powerful and potentially lucrative new capabilities of 5G, especially in B2B. (See Here are nine new things that 5G can do now.)

But, as Zhang's remarks make clear, the industry has its work cut out to turn slicing from a network capability into a seamless service that can be monetized.

Zhang is also a member of the China IMT-2020 5G Promotion Group, which has just begun a series of end-to-end trials that will continue until late next year.

Wang Changling, chief architect of China Unicom's core network, agrees that slicing "still has a way to go."

Speaking at an industry conference on slicing earlier this week, she said Unicom was collaborating with Huawei and appliance firm Gree Electric to build a private network using edge cloud and 5G slicing.


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The operator is also working with with utility firm State Grid and Internet firm Tencent to develop "the industry's first cloud game pilot."

Another operator, China Telecom, has been running pilots for a 5G dedicated private line service based on network slices, C114 website reported.

Chen Yunqing, vice president of the China Telecom Research Institute, said the pilots, in Beijing, Shanghai and four other locations, have supported scenarios such as live video broadcasting, remote monitoring, remote medical treatment and smart policing.

Chen said China Telecom would debut a small-scale 5G private network for Shenzhen police in August that integrated network slicing with public security applications.

The other telco, China Mobile, has issued a white paper that sets out what it thinks are three stages in developing slicing capabilities.

In the final stage, which will take another two to three years, it expects network slicing will be deliver AI-based SLAs and network self-optimization.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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