Will COVID-19 Advance Plans for 5G Network Slicing?

Author: Angela Logothetis, CTO, Amdocs Open Network

In 2019, network slicing was actively pursued as a revolutionary new way to deliver customized service to separate verticals and use cases. Investments began increasing, and communication service providers (CSPs) were working on their plans to monetize 5G. 

CSPs were anticipating new innovative income streams by providing customers with dedicated slices of the 5G network. But then COVID-19 arrived in 2020. Now companies have to shift gears and decide whether to continue with plans to test and deliver network slicing or shift the focus, at least for the time being, towards meeting the current demands placed on networks by WFH, education at home and entertainment at home.

Bigger questions remain for the future as well. If customers have come to expect flawless (and in many countries, unlimited) internet service delivered to their homes during the quarantine period, will they expect that same level of service on their mobile devices as lockdown eases? Could consumers’ reliance on internet providers accelerate the requirement for 5G network slicing, once they can travel again, commute, and move more freely?

In 2019, the Market was Starting to Invest in 5G Network Slicing

When Amdocs surveyed decision-makers of the top operators, 64% believed that 5G network slicing needs to be rolled out within two years to remain competitive. Furthermore, 84% of operators were planning to trial 5G network slicing in 2020 or had already been testing solutions. 

Network slicing is key to monetizing 5G, allowing operators to slice and deliver tailored 5G access to specific use cases, like Internet of Things (IoT) applications. This gives each use case or industry vertical the ability to have its own dedicated slice of the network, which is a true step forward from the one-size-fits-all approach of the past. 

Total investments in 5G networks were growing last year, with key players jockeying to be the first and best communications service providers. Companies were rolling out networks, launching initial services, and looking at how to best monetize. 

2020 and COVID-19 Rapidly Changed the Global Market

But as 2020 rolled around and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, the world and the economy quickly changed.

Network reliability became even more mission-critical as people moved to working and learning from home and our way of interacting with the world became digital.

5G rollouts initially slowed down due to constraints in the field.   The effort to bring 5G rollouts to life has necessarily slowed due to social distancing practices that need to be adhered to and specific state requirements about workplace shutdowns.

Investments of all kinds have slowed down as businesses operate with much more caution given the uncertainty of the economic climate. As businesses start to reopen, communications providers are shifting their focus back to 5G rollouts, and in a number of countries communications providers are accelerating investments.  COVID-19 has proven the demand for 5G use cases that were thought to be a few years away. Significant innovations are being made in early 5G services for remote office, remote education, telemedicine and robotics.

Industries that are Most Likely to Rapidly Adopt 5G Network Slicing

Manufacturing industries may experience increased pressure to find  methods to automate operations to keep their factories and production lines running when staffing is restricted. As workforces were asked to stay home, manufacturers were forced to look into how to stay operational using technologies like IoT and artificial intelligence. 

5G provides the minimal latency and high performance required for large manufacturing operations to make use of IoT to keep things online and interconnected when the number of human managers and technicians on site at any one time is significantly reduced.

Broadcasting is another example of an industry that will benefit from 5G network slicing as they meet the demand to broadcast the latest news from anywhere in the world. Newscasters who are sheltering in place can tap into a 5G network slice to report from their homes. In addition, listeners and viewers of the news can access 5G to stay connected to the latest guidelines and safety recommendations.

Tier 0 service providers are looking at ways to deliver tailored services and advanced connectivity through network slicing. Specific applications could request a slice in real-time, meaning service allocation could be matched to exactly what each customer requires. 

For example, when working from home, using a virtual machine, the customer will get high speed and low latency, but when they switch to working on emails, they won’t need high speed. The same customer, once offline from work, could then settle in to watch Netflix with higher speeds but lower latency.

Preparing for Future Customer Demand Now 

In the past, service providers would start with their network in mind and then decide what services to offer customers. But now, service providers have to start with what customers want and how they can deliver that service to them using the 5G network. 

5G network slicing is the key to tailored service allocation for each and every application, service, or customer use case. Guaranteed performance and quality of service are becoming important requirements not just for enterprise, but for all customers that have learnt to rely even more heavily on the internet for their work, entertainment, and family connections. 

COVID-19 has shown us that seamless communications need to be upheld to support our communities. And although many service providers have slowed down 5G rollouts to focus on supporting current network reliability, they now have an increased understanding of the importance of 5G and network slicing in the future. 

Lockdown and reliance on the network may accelerate plans for 5G adoption and network slicing in the coming months. Now is the time to plan how to monetize via 5G network slicing as businesses prepare to ramp up production and consumers gradually return to a mobile lifestyle.

For more on network slicing visit www.amdocs.com/5G-slice

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