Vodafone and Ericsson have successfully completed the UK’s first 5G standalone (SA) network slicing trial.
Network slicing is a new service for business customers and application developers, enabled by the deployment of 5G Standalone (SA) networks. The service allows mobile operators to create multiple virtual network slices which operate across the same physical network. Each slice is isolated from other network traffic to give dedicated and guaranteed performance, with the features of the slice tailored to the use case requirements.
In a joint lab demonstration, the two technology teams worked together to create an on-demand 5G network slice that was configured, using a RAN slicing function, to provide the low latency and high bandwidth required for a virtual reality use case in a retail store. The slice created guaranteed a download speed of 260Mbps and latency of 12.4 milliseconds.
The lab trial is the first of its kind for the mobile industry in the UK.
The process, from placing an order to creation of the network slice to carry live network traffic, took just 30 minutes. This demonstrates Vodafone and Ericsson’s ability to rapidly deliver automated and customised connectivity services as customers’ needs change.
A network slice can be customised to several different variables, including geographical location of slice (single office location to nationwide), download and upload speeds (minimum thresholds), latency (maximum threshold), capacity (device connection density in specific areas), and security (enhanced cybersecurity features).
New capabilities and services for customers may include secure communications for remote workers, high performing cloud-based and mobile gaming, enhanced safety in autonomous vehicles, and remote assistance for specialist procedures in hospitals and ambulances.
Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK, explains: “Network slicing is an incredibly valuable step forward. By segmenting our network, and customising different slices for different requirements, we can bring to life new ideas that would be impossible otherwise. When we configure our network to empower new services, industries like gaming, entertainment and healthcare can enter a new era. What might seem like science fiction is one step closer thanks to network slicing.”
Andrea Spaccapietra, VP Digital Services, Ericsson UK & Ireland, adds: “Network slicing will play a crucial role in enabling new and innovative 5G services for consumers and enterprises. With the tools to efficiently manage network resources and provide differentiated services with dedicated performance, leading network operators like Vodafone can enable new business model innovation and use cases across different sectors and unlock new revenue opportunities to realize the full potential of 5G.”
About the trial
Making use of its Ericsson-built 5G Standalone containerised core architecture and end-to-end automated orchestrated solution, including 5G RAN slicing, Vodafone was able to create a premium virtual reality network slice experience.
In the future, Vodafone will create a catalogue of different network slices that can be selected by customers depending on required experience. The selection and provision of network slices will be automated through a customer portal. The Vodafone team will work customers to continually evolve the features that can be customised within a slice.
Matthew O’Neill, Head of Networks at NTT DATA UK, comments: “This trial is an important step towards the broader provision of 5G network slicing, which will transform the UK’s network capabilities, supporting new and innovative use cases, and facilitating digital transformation across various industries.
“This is a big step forward for carriers, as network slicing reduces the cost of constructing multiple private networks while enabling them to provide highly flexible services which can be allocated on demand, based on service requirements. This improves the network value as well as the monetisation capability of carriers.
“Businesses stand to benefit from the reliability, low latency and high bandwidth provided by networking slicing, which will enable them to deliver high-end experiences for their customers. While this initial trial has been used to augment VR use cases, it will be exciting to see other use cases put into practice. The low latency functionality and the reliability provided by network slicing will play a vital role in enabling the Internet of Things, accelerating the rise of smart cities and building a more connected society.”
What 5G network slicing will deliver
According to Ericsson’s network slicing reports, is it estimated that 25-30% of the potential 5G use cases will need slicing as an enabler. Potential use cases include:
Mobile gaming: Today’s player-versus-player real-time gaming experience requires low-latency performance to guarantee a high-quality experience. A maximum threshold for latency and jitter can be applied to specialised network slices to ensure the gaming applications react in near-real time
Upgraded performance for short periods of time: customers could “upgrade” performance for a short period of time. For example, increased download speeds to download video content ahead of plane trip
In-venue experience: The connectivity experience for customers at entertainment venues can be a frustrating experience because of the high concentration of people in a small area. However, as demand at these venues is not 24/7, it could make more commercial sense to deploy a high-bandwidth and high-capacity network slice to ensure customers at mass attendance events have suitable connectivity coverage.
Automotive: For self-driving or remotely operated vehicles, enhanced and ultra-reliable connectivity is critical for both performance and safety. Specialised network slices could enable tele-operated/self-driving vehicles and real-time situational awareness. Network slicing also guarantees a certain level of Quality of Service to meet specific security needs that might be a regulatory requirement
Healthcare: use cases include remote assessment of potential life-threatening conditions through video where a low-latency slice could be critical for video performance, collecting data for early detection of diseases through precision medicine, as well as using robotics for rehabilitation with real-time control.
Smart city (public safety):use cases include real-time smart surveillance, massive mission critical IoT (such as connectivity for electricity grid substations) and real-time location information for emergency services. As each of these use cases could impact the safety of the general public, it would be advantageous to have a specialised network slice, rather than using the public internet (a homogonous connectivity experience)
Smart city (massive IoT): opportunity to deploy new, low-energy and cost-effective sensors at scale (smart electricity sensors for example) with capacity able to be adjusted with demand
Broadcast and production: use cases include remote broadcast and production, where the quality of live-stream content could be impacted by network upload speed. At mass entertainment events, there is also a risk of network congestion, whereas a dedicated network slice for broadcasters would be one of the few options available to guarantee data is transferred back to production studios in a timely manner, especially in temporary venues (such as music festivals).