Will 2023 finally be the year of network slicing, the technology that makes it possible for operators to manipulate the network on the fly and provide different virtual slices of the network to different customers?  In the early days of 5G, network slicing was heralded as one of the big reasons that operators should migrate their networks from 4G to 5G. But network slicing failed to gain traction mainly because many operators initially deployed non-standalone 5G (NSA). And while network slicing can technically be done on NSA, for it to work well, it needs standalone 5G (SA) because SA comes with a 5G core network.

But now many operators are moving from NSA to SA, and that means network slicing is once again getting attention. According to Mats Karlsson, head of solution area business and operations support systems at Ericsson, the company is involved in 50 proof-of-concept network slicing trials. “We are seeing a large number of operators trying it out and making decisions to implement it,” Karlsson said, adding that he expects 2023 will be the year that we see some leading operators commercially deploy network slicing.

In the U.S. market Dish Network has spoken extensively about the advantages of network slicing. The operator, which is in the midst of deploying a 5G SA network, has said that it plans to incorporate network slicing and is working with Ciena’s Blue Planet to help advance its network slicing capabilities.

Private network or network slice?

Karlsson adds that one of the compelling use cases for network slicing involves creating a virtual slice for an enterprise that the enterprise can then use to operate its own wireless network. This model is just another way to provide a private network for an enterprise but instead of building a separate small dedicated network the enterprise uses a slice that is carved out of the macro network.

Karlsson said that both private network models work, it really just depends on the type of private network the enterprise wants. If, for example, the enterprise wants a private network for a manufacturing plant in one location, it might make more sense to build a small private dedicated network. However, if an enterprise wants a network that covers multiple locations or if it needs access to the network across the entire country, it makes more sense to have a dedicated network slice. “It really depends upon the business model,” he said.

Another potential use case for network slicing that could be particularly appealing to U.S. operators like T-Mobile and Verizon involves using a dedicated slice to deliver fixed wireless access (FWA).  Karlsson said the advantage of using a dedicated slice for FWA is that operators can guarantee a certain level of service with that slice because they don’t have to share the network resources with their mobile service.

But for network slicing to really gain traction it also has to be incorporated into the device ecosystem. Karlsson said that Ericsson has been working with the device makers to get 3GPP-based route selection policies (URSP) incorporated into devices, which gives devices the ability to navigate multiple network slices. In November 2021 Ericsson teamed with FarEasTone to demonstrate end-to-end network slicing using Android 12 devices.

The Android 12 development is expected to make enterprises more interested in network slicing because it will allow for more enterprise applications to be developed.

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