5G continues to climb up the hype side of the inflated expectations curve and extravagant claims are being made about early deployments, says freelance technology writer, Bob Emmerson.
While recognising the undoubted importance of 5G networks in future, the ultra-reliable low latency (less than 1 ms) URLLC service needed for mission-critical communications such as remote surgery and autonomous vehicles will not be available for commercial use until 2022. Between now and then LTE-A Pro’s latency figure of less than 50 ms is more than adequate for most of today’s IoT business applications.
Bandwidth can be assigned in a very flexible way, enabling cost-effective low data services at one end of the spectrum (NB-IoT and LTE-M) and a 1 Gbps data rates at the other. Moreover, network slicing, which is associated with 5G, is now available on LTE. This development uses virtualisation to combine network resources and build separate logical networks. Each logical network or network slice shares the same physical network infrastructure and support systems but is effectively distinct and isolated.
Network slicing enables the creation of services that address different market segments, use cases and applications. It enables the business community to employ different customised connectivity services in order to match performance to application requirements.
For example, one slice could provide high availability and a specified latency. A second slice could provide high throughput and ultra-fast data speeds. Furthermore, dedicated slices can be delivered on-demand and employed as and when they are needed, and multiple real-time requests can be handled simultaneously.
Business benefits of network slicing
The benefits to the business community are clear. For operators, it would enable fast creation and deployment of new types of service offerings and support for different enterprise business models.
It’s a way to generate more revenue at a lower cost while maintaining network robustness. Therefore, the technology could offer businesses different reliable, resilient, secure and flexible communications services.
‘Would’ and ‘could’ are underlined to indicate that, while the building blocks for both deploying and managing a sliced network are available (as demonstrated by Ericsson and Swisscom at MWC 2018), it seems that the opportunity is not being taken up by operators. On the one hand, this is understandable given the urgent need to acquire spectrum for 5G, conduct trials and make significant investment decisions. On the other, why ignore a new revenue stream?
More significant is the fact that deploying network slicing now will enable operators to establish how it is employed; which are the top services and applications. And that experience should facilitate the transition to network slicing on 5G, in other words it can be marketed as an enhancement to an established set of services. However, that begs the question of when meaningful deployments will start.
Ericsson has indicated that managing the current and new additional 5G spectrum while also maintaining operations of existing technologies is a challenge that increases with the different combinations of spectrum bands. To enable the transition, the company has developed solutions that enable a stepwise introduction of 5G that would last around two to three years. A key transition objective is to enable operators to evolve to new 5G capabilities at a speed that matches their own business strategy, while enhancing current 4G business by reducing risk and making best use of the current infrastructure.
The delay underlines the importance of not waiting for 5G. But it’s also a positive message since it indicates that the transition process will not be linear, it will be nuanced, enabled in different ways for the different parties, who will in turn face a different set of opportunities and challenges.
The author is freelance technology writer, Bob Emmerson.