BARCELONA — A few years ago the topic of network slicing was mentioned constantly as a way that operators were going to monetize their 5G investments. Network slicing and remote brain surgery — those were going to make big bucks for 5G operators.

Now, it looks like it’s going to be a while for remote brain surgery. Do any patients really want this? But network slicing might actually be getting real.

Blue Planet, a division of Ciena, does operation support systems (OSS) for carriers. It’s gained traction as operators want (and need) to automate these systems in their modernized, software-based networks. Among Blue Planet’s capabilities is a 5G network slicing solution that incorporates end-to-end orchestration and observability of slices across the network.

Kailem Anderson, vice president of portfolio and engineering at Blue Planet, said, “Customers are purchasing our product for slicing.” He estimated that some operators will be using their new network slicing software within the next 18 months.

Although he didn’t specify which operators are buying its slicing software, Dish Wireless is a customer of Blue Planet. And Dish is building a greenfield standalone (SA) 5G network. 5G SA is necessary for network slicing.

Slicing what?

Until now, most conversations about network slicing centered on the idea that operators would be able to sell a slice of their networks to enterprises for their exclusive use. The slice would include all the network assets across the transport, the edge, the RAN and the core. In some ways this would be like getting their own private wireless network. But it would be dynamic. The slice could be spun up or taken down to meet their needs.

Freddie Södergren, Ericsson’s head of technology and strategy at Business Area Networks, said slicing can also be used to help operators optimizing their own network traffic.

Slicing software could classify network traffic and put it on an appropriate slice.

Södergren said, “We can now classify traffic in the network in a smart way through the phone, and the handset will be able to determine the needs of each application.” He said both Google and Microsoft are trialling network slicing capabilities in devices.

“Based on the classification, the traffic for different applications will go into different slices,” said Södergren. “Like video conferencing will be optimized for low latency but not necessarily high throughput. In the network we can create that slice end to end. Today, we have to manage all the traffic in the same way.”

Gaming traffic also might be a natural category to classify and deliver as a slice so that gamers get the best experience. And perhaps they would be charged a premium so that operators could finally monetize 5G.

Blue Planet’s Anderson said, “We have a demo for a gaming slice. It moves that slice around based on where the gamer is.”

Considering the dynamic nature of online gaming or video conferencing, it’s understandable that operators would need some sophisticated management software to expand and contract these slices on demand. That’s where Blue Planet fits into the equation.

Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, said another plausible network slice might be to provide an IoT application throughout the U.S. It has very small network requirements, which could be classified and delivered via a slice.

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