Vodafone unveils UK’s first on-demand 5G network slice

Leading UK operator teams with Ericsson to create the UK’s first on-demand 5G network slice, with trial showing how businesses can deploy dedicated on-demand and secure end-to-end connectivity

Vodafone and Ericsson have announced the successful completion of the country’s first 5G standalone (SA) network slicing trial.

In a joint lab demonstration, the two firms’ technology teams worked together to create an on-demand 5G network slice that was configured, using a radio access network (RAN) slicing function, to provide the low latency and high bandwidth required for a virtual reality use case in a retail store. The slice created guaranteed a download speed of 260Mbps and latency of 12.4 milliseconds.

The lab trial is the first of its kind for the mobile industry in the UK. Enabled by the deployment of 5G Standalone (SA) networks, the service allows mobile operators to create multiple virtual network slices which operate across the same physical network.

The trial made use of an Ericsson-built 5G Standalone containerised core architecture and end-to-end automated orchestrated offering, including 5G RAN slicing.

Each slice is isolated from other network traffic to give dedicated and guaranteed performance, with the features of the slice tailored to the use case requirements. The trial showed how the process of placing an order to creation of the network slice to carry live network traffic took just 30 minutes. This, said Vodafone and Ericsson, demonstrated the ability to rapidly deliver automated and customised connectivity services as customers’ needs change.

Indeed, the firms noted that that a network slice can be customised to several different variables, including geographical location of slice, for example, a single office location or nationwide; download and upload speeds with defined minimum thresholds; latency with maximum threshold; capacity based on device connection density in specific areas; and security, with enhanced cyber security features.

The result could be new capabilities and services for customers, including secure communications for remote workers, high-performing, cloud-based and mobile gaming, enhanced safety in autonomous vehicles, and remote assistance for specialist procedures in hospitals and ambulances.

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In terms of an offer to customers, Vodafone said it will create a catalogue of different network slices that can be selected by customers depending on required experience. The selection and provision of network slices will be automated through a customer portal. Vodafone added that it would work with customers to continually evolve the features that can be customised within a slice.

“Network slicing is an incredibly valuable step forward,” said Vodafone UK chief network officer Andrea Dona. “By segmenting our network, and customising different slices for different requirements, we can bring to life new ideas that would be impossible otherwise. When we configure our network to empower new services, industries like gaming, entertainment and healthcare can enter a new era. What might seem like science fiction is one step closer thanks to network slicing.”

According to Ericsson’s network slicing reports, is it estimated that 25-30% of the potential 5G use cases will need slicing as an enabler. For example, in self-driving or remotely operated vehicles, enhanced and ultra-reliable connectivity is critical for both performance and safety. Specialised network slices could enable tele-operated and self-driving vehicles, as well as real-time situational awareness.

Network slicing also guarantees a certain level of quality of service to meet specific security needs that might be a regulatory requirement.

Healthcare use cases include remote assessment of potential life-threatening conditions through video where a low-latency slice could be critical for video performance, collecting data for early detection of diseases through precision medicine, as well as using robotics for rehabilitation with real-time control.

“Network slicing will play a crucial role in enabling new and innovative 5G services for consumers and enterprises,” said Andrea Spaccapietra, vice-president of digital services for Ericsson UK and Ireland.

“With the tools to efficiently manage network resources and provide differentiated services with dedicated performance, leading network operators like Vodafone can enable new business model innovation and use cases across different sectors, and unlock new revenue opportunities to realise the full potential of 5G.”

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