Network slicing is one of the key features differentiating 5G networks from prior generations. Despite this promise, 5G network slicing adoption has been nearly nonexistent. Although application developers had the ability to tap into network slicing starting with Android 12 (Aug. 2021) and subsequently with Android 13 (Aug. 2022), they just now got that option for Apple devices with iOS 17. We just witnessed the release of initial details around MDM managing 5G slicing, hidden behind the Vision Pro announcements in Apple’s WWDC23. A fragmented development community now has the tools to start using network slicing in their application designs across OS platforms.
Vendor And Provider Dependency
3GPP standards are intended to provide vendor-agnostic specifications, which means network slicing should work with any combination of radio access and core network vendors. In practice, however, there’s room for vendor-specific implementations such as the algorithms and techniques used. Vendor-specific implementations could provide better slice performance, provisioning, and management. Service providers around the globe continue their deployment efforts to bring 5G standalone into commercial use, building the foundation of the end-to-end architecture.
Network slicing opens the possibility for monetizing customer experiences; however, the industry is not quite ready for an end-to-end architecture (e.g., network, applications, device OS, management, and orchestration). As an example, we are still 2–3 years away from seeing a VIP streaming service for consumers using a slice that is requested and managed at the application profile level instead of the SIM profile level. A quick monetization win could be private 5G networks as a slice to public infrastructure in a static setup at the SIM/eSIM level.
Management and orchestration are essential for making slicing a reality. A network slice is considered a network service and therefore managed by service-level agreements and subject to incident/change/problem management processes. It should leverage available CI/CD and automation frameworks as part of the service lifecycle.
Future State Of Network Slicing
AI-driven dynamic slicing is the target state, where applications can request slices on demand depending on app subscriptions, and the network is dynamically assigning and managing slices at the application profile level. From a different perspective, networks can create that demand by ingesting and analyzing third-party data and suggesting targeted services such as VIP packages in concerts or events. Following consumer package acceptance, the network will dynamically assign and manage the slice at the user and application profile level.
Apple Tries To Complete The Ecosystem
While Apple’s slicing capabilities are welcome news, the 5G slicing ecosystem is still missing worldwide availability of 5G standalone networks and the general adoption of 5G slicing by the SW development community. Providers (e.g., telcos, systems integrators) that can successfully communicate with the SW development community (e.g., app designs, dev sprints impact, test cases and test environments, performance and security implications) and influence enterprisewide stakeholders (CMO, CTO, COO, CDO) will prevail. A winning proposition should abstract the technology and focus on the business outcome (e.g., employee productivity increase by providing an MS Teams VIP collaboration service leveraging 5G network slicing, Zero Trust edge, and express cloud connectivity). We expect a slow adoption by the enterprise SW development community in creating a network-aware software development lif cycle, resulting in a complete 5G slicing ecosystem becoming available in 2–3 years.