5G network slicing finally shown to be more than pipe dream

Telcos demonstrate configuration in action at research facility. Now to find customers that want to buy one

Telco BT has demonstrated network slicing, long slated as a key element for providing full fat 5G networks promised to subscribers.

The Brit network giant says it showed both consumer and enterprise applications enabled by network slicing at its Adastral Park research facility. The tests used a 5G Standalone (5G SA) network running on Ericsson kit and used devices based on Qualcomm mobile chipsets.

Network slicing can be likened to virtualization for networks; it allows multiple networks, each with characteristics tailored for different applications, to operate over the same physical infrastructure.

Some applications call for minimal latency, for example, while others need a reliable connection and others simply benefit from having the maximum bandwidth possible.

This was touted as a key feature of 5G, but like others, only seems to be arriving with 5G SA networks that overhaul the network core rather than just slapping a 5G radio onto existing 4G infrastructure.

By allocating a portion of the 5G SA network to provide dynamic partitions for specific use cases, BT says better performance could be maintained for bandwidth-heavy activities such as mobile gaming and video conferencing, even during peak times.

During the trials, it was able to establish network slices for gaming, enterprise, and Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), the last of which basically meaning faster downloads.

Using the enterprise and eMBB slices simultaneously, BT says the tests showed off 4K video streaming, which requires a stable connection and low jitter, plus other enterprise use cases with a Samsung S23 Ultra device based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset.

On the gaming side, BT's demonstration was able to maintain a throughput in excess of the recommended 25 Mbps at 1080p resolution on Nvidia's GeForce Now gaming service, plus a gaming session on Fortnite using the Samsung S23 Ultra, the telco claims.

"As we work diligently towards the launch of our own 5G SA network, today's successful demonstration of how slicing enables us to differentiate quality of service to guarantee performance for different segments is a significant milestone," said BT Group Chief Networks Officer Greg McCall.

The question arises of when BT will offer these better services to customers in its operational networks, but the company was either unable or unwilling to provide us with an answer.

"It is likely that we will see the launch of EE’s 5G SA network at some point this year, and can then expect a phased rollout based upon customer needs and capacity hungry areas," telecoms analyst Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight told us.

"A trial is great, but now it's time to start implementing this cool stuff in a real life commercial and operational environment," he said. Wider industry support is needed, including a broad range of devices, he added.

Gartner VP Analyst Bill Ray said it was surprising that it had taken the industry so long to get here, considering this is part of the 5G standard.

He sounded a note of caution for the mobile industry when commercializing this technology. "I've spoken to a lot of network operators who plan to sell slices of their 5G networks to enterprises. However, I have yet to speak to an enterprise which is planning to buy one." ®

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