UK incumbent BT has shared details of some recent 5G network slicing trials it carried out with Ericsson and Qualcomm.

It took place at BT’s Adastral Park R&D facility, and saw three slices configured for three distinct use cases – gaming, enterprise and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB). BT said the trial demonstrated how slicing can ensure optimal performance for multiple bandwidth-heavy use cases.

BT singled out mobile gaming traffic in particular – which has almost doubled on EE’s network since the beginning of 2023 to more than two petabytes per month – to underscore the potential benefits of slicing.

With a dedicated slice, BT et al were able to maintain a steady connection comfortably in excess of a recommended rate of 25-Mbps to Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service.

They initiated a gaming session on Fortnite using a Samsung S23 Ultra equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, while Ericsson implemented the network slicing on EE’s mobile network. They were able to sustain a steady 1080p experience, even when the network was loaded up with background traffic. BT said they compared the optimised gaming slice to a regular eMBB RAN partition, and found the latter offered “a less than optimal” gaming experience.

For the enterprise trial, BT used User Equipment Route Selection Policy (URSP) to configure enterprise and eMBB slices, enabling a device to connect to multiple slices simultaneously depending on the application. The result was consistent 4K video streaming and enterprise use cases on the same Samsung S23 Ultra.

“Network slicing will enable us to deliver new and improved capabilities for customers in the 5G SA era. 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 (QoS) to guarantee performance for different segments is a significant milestone, and illustrative of the new services that will be enabled by 5G SA,” said Greg McCall, BT’s chief networks officer.

5G network slicing is shaping up to be the flying car or nuclear fusion of telecoms – it’s a technology that has been ‘just around the corner’ for the better part of a decade.

A few years ago, Ericsson and Arthur D. Little predicted that by 2030, network slicing will come to represent a $200 billion revenue opportunity for CSPs, with the healthcare sector accounting for the biggest single share (21%). Given how slowly and carefully healthcare providers tend to tread when it comes to implementing new tech, and how long it is taking network slicing to emerge, it seems unlikely they will be making sufficient use of network slicing by 2030 to generate $42 billion of potential revenue for operators.

More recent, real-world highlights include Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) and Ericsson showing off a dedicated network slice for an augmented reality-based, international esports tournament in December.

In September, Japanese operator KDDI formed the 5G Global Network Slicing Alliance in partnership with Samsung, while T-Mobile US made a beta version of its network slicing software available to Android developers.

BT for its part has been working on slicing for years. It began researching it in earnest in 2017, in partnership with Huawei. The Chinese vendor’s unceremonious booting from the UK telco market will have disrupted that endeavour somewhat, but it gives an idea about how long this is all taking.

Slicing requires a 5G standalone (SA) network to work, and the slow pace at which these networks are being rolled out hasn’t helped.

However, the pace is picking up. According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA)’s January update, 121 operators in 55 countries are investing in public 5G SA networks, and 46 operators in 27 countries have launched them.

Hopefully – for the sanity of industry commentators everywhere – 2024 will finally be the year when network slicing takes off.

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