LONDON -- 5G World -- Mobile operators need to come up with a standard definition of network slicing to avoid market confusion and the risk of a customer backlash, according Uwe Janssen, the vice president of research and innovation for Germany's Deutsche Telekom.
Janssen said operators rolling out 5G networks will have to reach agreement on what slicing means so that customers know what to expect. (See Collaboration Is Critical for 5G Network Slicing.)
"Automotive customers will not be satisfied to get one slice from Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and then a different experience in the US and China," he said during today's 5G World conference in London. "They want global solutions and that goes for every industry."
Heralded as one of the key innovations that will come with the rollout of 5G networks, network slicing should in theory allow operators to provide many different types of virtualized network service over the same 5G infrastructure.
Operators could, for example, design one slice to suit the needs of customers with very high-bandwidth requirements and another that caters to those demanding ultra-reliable and very low-latency connections.
But service providers are not in alignment on the specifics, according to Janssen. "Everyone has a different idea of what slicing is about -- some say it is about quality of service but with better resource management and others say there is a different core network but shared access," he said at today's show. "For us it covers access, core and network management, and there may be shared or dedicated resources."
What adds to that confusion is that some large enterprise customers may be expecting their own dedicated slice even as operators design slices for specific vertical markets rather than individual clients.
"We don't know whether we'll have different network slices for Ford and BMW or just one automotive slice," acknowledged Janssen. "That will depend on requirements but also on their willingness to pay."
Operators may need to involve customers in the discussions about network slicing as they are developing more standardized approaches, said Janssen.
"This is challenging," he said. "Standardizing is in our DNA but the automotive industry is not used to cooperating -- it is something new for other industry players."
While it was not mentioned by Janssen during his presentation, regulation could also represent a barrier to certain forms of network slicing if authorities decide they contravene rules on net neutrality -- the somewhat hazy principle that operators should not be able to offer network access on preferential terms. (See Net Neutrality Rules Threaten 5G, NFV – Telenor.)
Besides urging the industry to pull together on network slicing, Janssen gave typically short shrift to the network equipment incumbents, effectively saying the big players had failed to come up with sufficiently innovative solutions and were blocking progress by others.
"Our situation is that we have only a handful of suppliers left and there is quite limited innovation in infrastructure," he said. "There are lots of good ideas in universities and startups but it's hard for them to bring those to market because the big suppliers have their own agenda."
Deutsche Telekom has now repeatedly called for a major shake-up in the equipment market to ensure that 5G networks can be rolled out economically. (See The Growing Pains of 5G.)
Among other things, the operator has joined the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which the social networking giant set up in early 2016 in an effort to spur network innovation and reduce equipment costs.
TIP now features a large number of startups as well as more established vendors and many of the world's biggest mobile operators.
Through another initiative called xRAN, Deutsche Telekom is also working on decoupling the control plane from the user plane in the radio access network.
Doing so would allow it to run network software on common off-the-shelf servers and could help to reduce the equipment bill and pursue more flexible arrangements with network vendors, including startups as well as more established players.
"We tried for 30 years to open up radio interfaces and have an open interface between the basestation and the basestation controller, but it's against the interest of suppliers," said Janssen. "We said let's build an ecosystem to develop open source, open standard base stations and that is the xRAN project."
Unveiled at this year's Mobile World Congress, xRAN counts AT&T, SK Telecom, Verizon and Telstra as operator members.
Contributing vendor members include Cisco, Ciena, Mavenir and Intel, with Stanford University also active in the project.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading