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Ericsson is right. We shouldn’t wait around for killer 5G slicing use cases

Ericsson is right. We shouldn’t wait around for killer 5G slicing use cases

Last month telecoms.com sat down with Hannes Ekström, Head of Strategy for Business Area Networks at Ericsson—and if you didn’t see it yet, it’s definitely worth 10 minutes of your time.

The interview covers a range of recent Ericsson activities, including its now approved $6bn swoop on Vonage, the company’s current perspective on Open RAN and early 6G thinking. 

But what we found particularly interesting was his view on 5G slicing trials… which can be summed up, pithily enough, maybe as, ‘Let’s all stop doing them.’

More accurately—he thinks that there’s no reason to not get started now with real-world 5G slicing. Why? “It’s viable technology today,” and so there’s no reason we can’t get “started now”.

His example is of a knock-down, can’t-be-refuted killer use case for the approach, like connecting an ambulance racing through the streets of London to the specific clinician who alone could save its passenger. “In all fairness,” he told his interviewer, “we’re probably a bit away from [that]”—so he’s telling his customers, “don’t wait for [the killer use case].”

Instead, Ericsson thinks, practical 5G slicing—like its trial with FarEasTone and Google—can and should be attempted now, today. In Ekström’s view, that could and should be for both enterprise and consumer, with appropriately tiered levels of charging and security.

Now, it could immediately be argued that this is Ericsson marketing; after all, it sells equipment for doing just that—and it’s also quite happy to carry on trial after trial itself, like with Telefonica, and in less than immediately compelling areas like virtual reality game streaming.

But he’s surely right. The market needs to move from PoCs to real activity and waiting around for the killer app to emerge is making perfect the enemy of the value-adding 5G slicing ‘good.’ 

How many amazing use cases does one market need?

Some of the inertia is outside anyone’s control, like the drag of not having enough 5G SA around. But more and more pieces of the puzzle drop every day—indeed, huge help came from that Telefonica trial, in the shape of  new automated provision and lifecycle management of end-to-end network slices capabilities, which, it is claimed, reduce the time it takes to configure and deploy a new slice to less than 35 minutes.

And some of these trials are getting more and more commercially interesting anyway. Take (again) Ericsson’s work with China Mobile Zhejiang exploring the use of 5G to monitor disasters in China. This merged existing emergency communication practices, digital twin use cases, and network slicing to produce functionality that—sad to say but must be said—could be of immense use across a world struggling with the first wave of indisputable climate crisis shocks.

Even if you don’t believe Ekström, the use cases and tech breakthroughs keep coming. Then there’s 5G network slicing on Android, the first demo of guaranteed Quality of Service on a slice, Nokia’s work with Israel’s Cellcom and Sweden’s Telia, which it claimed at MWC was the world’s first 5G edge slicing trials on live commercial networks. In March, Vodafone and Ericsson successfully completed the UK’s first 5G SA network slicing trial: last month BT announced positive results of a four-carrier channel aggregation (4CCA) trial.

Time waits for no product--let alone yours

The list goes on. But we don’t need any more examples. We need products, services, and start-ups and then scale-outs doing real-world work with 5G network slicing. In other words, we need smart ideas to move from PoC and endless rounds of trials to real, commercial deployments and service offers – and, in view of efforts to diversity supply chains and to encourage more vendors to enter the market, this can’t happen soon enough. Otherwise, such efforts will flounder as edgy start-ups run out of cash.

Operators should be challenging in the NPN market by offering slices today that could be filled in by—as Ekström says—viable products on viable 2022 tech.

And the best argument for action of them all is surely that waiting around for the killer app just means someone else will deliver it while you’re hesitating.