The one 5G feature that will completely change the mobile experience (Reader Forum) – RCR Wireless News

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The roar of the crowd echoed through the packed stadium as the stage went dark. A pop megastar’s latest spectacular sold-out show was finally over, and throughout the entire four-hour extravaganza, tens of thousands of adoring fans continuously posted videos to social media to share their experience with countless others — and not a single upload failed because of insufficient bandwidth.

Concertgoers streamed toward the exits, and many opened their rideshare apps. Within minutes, an army of sleek self-driving cars began pulling up to the curb. Fans hopped in for the trip back home or to their hotels, with their autonomous chauffeurs flawlessly navigating traffic-free routes thanks to an ultra-low latency connection that literally guided their every move.

These types of experiences may seem like far-off science fiction. After all, who among us can actually send a text message to friends from a packed arena, let alone a 10-second video clip? But they’re just a glimpse of a near future made possible through 5G network slicing.

Unlike previous generations of mobile networks, which provided the same one-size-fits-all experience to every subscriber, network slicing empowers operators to tailor parts of their 5G network toward desired capabilities — such as speed, cost, availability or reliability — for specific uses or applications. Imagine an operator offering one slice for industrial IoT devices that require intermittent low-bandwidth attachments, another slice for immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences, and a third slice promising ultra-reliable, low-latency connections for autonomous vehicles.

According to GSMA Intelligence, there are now 10.7 billion connections being made by internet of things (IoT) devices via 5G networks, compared to 10.5 billion connections by consumer devices. That growing adoption will fuel the networks’ unique capabilities: One study projected that the global network slicing market size will grow from $759 million in 2023 to $13.7 billion by 2030 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 51.1%. In short, we will be living in a period where not only people, but plenty of devices and gadgets will be connected to a 5G network with constant data transmissions.

Network slicing is believed to be the Holy Grail that will allow 5G networks to meet the wildly diverse demands of modern businesses and consumers. Once operators begin rolling out these capabilities, they will fundamentally shift the technologies we all have grown to love. Enterprises will be creating numerous use cases and applications that are enabled by 5G and, in particular, network slicing.

Technological hurdles restrict growth

Before network slicing becomes widely adopted and deployed operators must overcome significant technical challenges that limit its widespread adoption.

First and foremost, they must continue building out their 5G standalone (SA) core networks, which are required for slicing capabilities. Only 47 operators worldwide had launched a true 5G SA network as of January, according to GSMA research, with a further 89 deployments in the works. That’s out of roughly 1,250 operators globally, which demonstrates just how complex this rollout is — and how long it will take for network slicing to become ubiquitous. (By comparison, GSMA noted there were 261 non-standalone 5G deployments, which still rely on 4G LTE core elements, in 101 countries.)

But operators face considerable infrastructure challenges beyond just building out their 5G SA cores. Their radio access networks (RANs) must be able to handle the increased demands on the network. That means installing exponentially more small-cell millimeter wave architecture, particularly in urban areas and venues like stadiums and arenas where slicing will be most beneficial. It’s an enormously complex process.

Devices also need to be compatible with 5G network slicing features. Few consumer handsets have this capability built in, though it has been supported by those running the Android 12 and iOS 17 operating systems onward. And, the limited number of demonstrated use cases means IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices, which stand to benefit most from this technology, aren’t yet equipped, either.

In many ways, it’s a chicken-and-egg problem: Enterprises and consumers must get a taste of what 5G network slicing can offer before they demand more from it, but operators must experience an increase in demand before they make it more widely available — and doing so comes at a cost.

Several options for revenue generation

Network slicing’s true impact hinges on whether operators can create viable business models and compelling value propositions to support it. After sinking billions into 5G infrastructure, operators must find ways to recoup that investment — and network slicing presents a considerable opportunity for them to do so.

Thus far, it’s unclear how this will play out. One approach could involve building a rate structure that’s based on service-level agreements (SLAs) tied to an enterprise’s slicing requirements. For example, a manufacturer needing an ultra-reliable, low-latency slice for robotics might pay a higher fee to guarantee performance than a farm cooperative that’s solely monitoring occasional acidity levels of its soil.

SLAs will likely form the crux of how operators commercialize network slicing capabilities, but consumer services could also emerge. An operator may make access to a network slice available by partnering with mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to offer gaming services. The MVNO may wish to purchase a high-bandwidth, low-latency slice packaged with mobile edge computing capabilities to enable a lag-free user experience for interested gamers.

Other innovative network slicing pricing models and bundling strategies are likely to follow as the technology matures over the next several years. Perhaps unique partnerships arise between operators and other companies to bring access to their customers, similar to how we see some offering free streaming services or in-flight Wi-Fi on certain airlines as a perk for being a subscriber.

Whatever the case may be, operators will be able to accurately bill customers for these network slices through dynamic, scalable charging and clearing services. Compelling monetization models are crucial to 5G’s long-term success, and operators must get them right for their multi-billion-dollar 5G investments to pay off.

Groundbreaking applications will be possible

While the initial implementation of 5G network slices will likely address enhanced mobile broadband and IoT device connectivity, the true long-term impact will come from enabling new applications that are impossible without it.

In health care, surgeons may be able to conduct surgeries remotely through reliable network slices with ultra-low latency. Municipal governments could analyze real-time data to drive automated smart city operations, including traffic management at busy intersections, or carve out a network slice for first responders that ensures uninterrupted emergency communications. Manufacturers could even set up their own private wireless network, then maintain high-quality connectivity for robotics systems via one slice and high-bandwidth video monitoring through another.

The possibilities of 5G network slicing are virtually limitless, and they will usher in new business models and an increase in innovation. When those concertgoers shared every moment with friends and followers in real time, then hopped into an autonomous vehicle for their ride away from the stadium, they were only scratching the surface of what 5G network slicing can do — keep them connected stronger than ever before.

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