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Network slicing is becoming the unescapable buzzword of the month

Every couple of months a new buzzword emerges, and it starts to appear in pretty much every conversation. Now its network slicing staking a claim for the title.

Featuring in almost every presentation at the 5G Core conference in Madrid this week, the technology certainly has a lot to live up to. However, like the cloud, virtualisation or digital transformation, it is claiming its 15 minutes of fame, though the promise and potential is very grand.

Although it might not should like the most revolutionary aspect of the quickly evolving telco landscape, it offers so much opportunity to evolve the business and grow revenues. As Franz Seiser of Deutsche Telekom put it, the one-size-fits-all 4G network cannot deliver the fortunes investors have been promised so frequently as the industry wades through this tenuous period.

Network slicing is critical. The idea of creating customisable networks and specific products for enterprise is only achievable through the implementation of network slicing. Or, it can be achieved through more traditional means of network deployment, but this would not be commercially attractive. Soon enough, a slice could be designated for low-latency services in the energy industry, the high-speeds demanded by broadcasting or the resilience and reliability insisted upon in the manufacturing space.

It also adds into the drive towards network convergence.

As Maria Cuevas of BT pointed out during her presentation, network convergence has been attempted in the past, though it has failed. However, baby-steps are being made towards realising the convergence dream, as well as the operational and financial benefits, and network slicing will add further to the momentum.

This is not the only trend which Cuevas is keeping an eye-on, but the ability to designate traffic to specific slices adds notable momentum to the operational side of a converged network.

However, there are still challenges. The next 3GPP standards release in March 2020 should add some much-needed clarity, though many of the questions which telcos are facing today are operational not technical.

Technical challenges are not a problem realistically, according to Telecom Italia (TIM) SVP Lucy Lombardi; a solution will always emerge. The issues which are currently being dealt are much more business focused. Does TIM want slices to be fixed or dynamic? Who will control the functionality of the slice, TIM or the customer? Will roaming be a slice? What kind of industry collaboration does it need?

The technical challenges will gradually dissolve as vendors propose new ideas and telcos present success stories at conference, but the business questions which have been mentioned above are perhaps more challenging. This is where a telco can add value, create differentiation and attract customers.

The 5G networks which are currently being deployed are no-longer driven by the demands of the consumer. The consumer is of course still important, but the 5G network is being designed and deployed to realise the benefits of the enterprise connectivity world. And network slicing is a critical component of this dream.

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