Telefónica is Ericsson’s latest partner in dynamic 5G slicing trials
Network slicing is still over the horizon for almost all established operators, at least in the true 5G sense. This looks for a dynamic, application-driven and automated platform that carves out virtual slices of connectivity, from transport to core to multiple access networks, and provisions them to suit the requirements of particular applications, user groups or enterprises. A few operators have made some significant steps towards this vision, including greenfields Rakuten and Dish, and the Chinese and South Korean MNOs. But in the main, end-to-end 5G slicing (which includes slicing of the air interface and requires the 5G core), is still the focus of trials and lab tests rather than commercial launches.
Ericsson has been particularly prominent in recent slicing trials and in recent months, has announced interesting test results, working with Vodafone UK in March and now with Telefónica in Spain. In both cases, the triallists claimed that an end-to-end slice had been configured and deployed in 35 minutes or less, in a lab environment.
In Spain, the user experience and end-to-end capabilities were validated by Google, and the findings will be shared with the GSMA to enable them to increase other operators’ understanding.
The proof-of-concept (PoC) was staged in the Telefónica-backed 5TONIC innovation lab in Madrid, used Ericsson’s Dynamic Radio Resource Partitioning (DRRP) technology and its slice lifecycle support. The tests ran on smartphones from Google, Samsung, TCL and Xiaomi, running Android 12 and a beta release of Android 13, both of which have enhanced device-side support for slicing (one of the barriers to the technology has been that, in its full form, it needs compatible devices, which have not been widely available). The handsets ran on different chipsets, from Qualcomm, MediaTek and Samsung.
Ericsson’s DRRP is part of its 5G RAN Slicing portfolio, which it unveiled in early 2021. It aims to allocate spectrum resources with millisecond-level scheduling and supports multi-dimensional service differentiation handling across slices.
The first use cases in the Spanish trial included 360° video production in motion, in which Telefónica worked with extended reality video distribution platform Yerba Buena VR (YBVR), which also worked with the operator in 2019 on an immersive video trial based on edge compute. Other slicing use cases were remote control of an automated guided vehicle; and gesture recognition, working with Spanish IoT specialist Fivecomm.
Telefónica said the PoC “generated valuable results and insights that will help the different parties to land product definitions required for ensuring a successful commercial service”. It added that each of the use cases involved needed its own “specific and complex service configuration”, and concluded that slicing, with dynamic partitioning of radio resources, would be essential to fully automated delivery of many complex services, as operators seek to reduce their reliance on mobile broadband and expand into specialized enterprise applications.
The test partners said they had validated several capabilities of slicing in the lab, including:
- Automation in the provision and lifecycle management of end-to-end network slices
- Service assurance for slices
- Definition of different scenarios for prioritizing traffic in a slice, such as DRRP (which enables the sharing of radio resources between use cases with different service requirements)
- Simultaneous access by a handset to different slices, with the potential to select the traffic sent to each slice on the device side.
“Network slicing is key to accommodating new use cases leveraging 5G, with the promise to provide new capabilities to a variety of users and enterprises with minimal or no manual intervention,” commented Jorge Navais, global account manager for Telefónica.
Ericsson is to provide Telefónica with its 5G core while the 5G RAN contract has been divided between the Swedish vendor and Nokia, as the operator phases Huawei equipment out of its network.
In March, Vodafone UK worked with Ericsson to trial dynamic 5G Standalone slicing, though the operator claimed that net neutrality rules may limit the potential for commercial services.
The trial used RAN slicing to deliver an on-demand 5G network slice for a virtual reality application. This required low latency and high bandwidth and achieved metrics of 12.4ms and 260Mbps respectively in a demonstration based in a retail store environment. The process of ordering a slice, through to provisioning and deploying it, took 30 minutes, the partners claimed.
Vodafone said this was the first test of its kind in the UK and expects customer proofs-of-concept (PoCs) to take place by the end of the year. It also believes other Vodafone subsidiaries in Europe will be able to redeploy the same slicing trial to save themselves time and effort in bringing their own offerings to market.
The commercial objective is to develop a catalog of network slice use cases and allow customers to choose and customize them through a portal, with provisioning and delivery fully automated.
Andrea Dona, chief network officer at Vodafone UK, said: “We’re actually bringing to life NaaP [network-as-a-platform], network slicing, easily configurable from the customer,” highly standardized and easy to use.
However, Vodafone claims that net neutrality legislation in the UK is currently ambiguous about slicing, since it states that broadband providers “must treat all Internet traffic on their networks equally, and not favour certain websites or services”. Regulator Ofcom is reviewing whether this would be contravened by slicing, though it can be argued that a fully automated system, in which network resources are called up by the user application, rather than being prioritized by the operator, would be acceptable.
Dona commented: “We really welcome Ofcom’s latest request for our input. They seem to be acknowledging a need for a shift as the world has changed since the early days of the open Internet. Now, the different devices out there, the different services that we’ve got, the different technology require a review.”
Vodafone has proposed the concept of ‘zones’ that would be defined by different types of devices such as mobile, IoT and fixed access, as they operate in different environments and need different rules. “There would be a level playing field within a particular set of devices, but you cannot compare apples with oranges, or it will create a barrier to commercializing things like this.”
BT has also been calling for an acceleration of Ofcom’s review, which will take place during 2022-2023, and for a new approach. In December, BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera wrote in a blog post: “The Net is not neutral and becomes less so yearly; a quick glance at our own network data suggests that at peak times up to 80% of traffic – and therefore capacity on our network – comes from just a handful of companies, some using models that can find and consume every last bit of space.”
In South Korea, the government amended neutrality rules to create a special category for network slicing, and the leading operators, SK Telecom and KT, already offer limited slicing services to enterprises, and to support high value consumer use cases.