ZTE: Grabbing a Network Slice

Enterprises in their millions are signing up to the power of 5G. 

According to a study by Qualcomm, by 2035 5G could underpin up to $12.3 trillion worth of goods and services in industries such as retail, healthcare, education, transportation, entertainment and many more, businesses benefitting in numerous ways, from productivity gains and remote working opportunities to rural connectivity and smarter office spaces. 

Service providers are beginning to reap the benefits in a sizable way. A recent study by Grand View Research estimates that the global 5G services market size will reach $45.7 billion this year and grow at an average annual rate of 32.1 percent between 2021 and 2025. 

“The most exciting part of 5G is connecting things,” comments Tu Jiashun, Principal Scientist at Chinese telecoms equipment producing giant ZTE. “5G not only creates value for the current telco industry but also opens up opportunities for the digital transformation of other vertical industries, or enterprises. 

“Meanwhile, the digital transformation for the enterprise will greatly promote the applications of the 5G network and open up a new huge market of system integration. Enterprises will continue to integrate 5G into their service life-cycle process, which greatly increases the production efficiency, speeds up the launch of products or services and reduces operational expenditure and capital expenditure.”

However, although the numbers are soaring upwards, some notable challenges remain. 

One is maximising the use of 5G networks and opening up access to as many enterprises as possible without imposing prohibitive costs and logistic challenges. 

The sub-optimal use of networks is, according to the GSMA, down to the diversity and sometimes conflicting requirements of the businesses using them. For instance, one customer may require ultra-reliable services where another may prioritise ultra-high bandwidth or low latency. 

Thus, 5G networks need to be able to deliver a range of requirements at the same time, a logical approach being to build several dedicated networks, each adapted to a specific type of business client. 

However, a more economical and efficient approach does exist in the form of network slicing. 

As the GSMA puts it, “network slicing is the embodiment of the concept of running multiple logical networks as virtually independent business operations on a common physical infrastructure in an efficient and economical way”, something which Tu believes will deliver substantial gains to its users. 

“In comparison to the substantial investment and the length of time needed to build a physical private network, 5G end-to-end network slicing is provided by the operator’s public mobile network to share all of these expensive resources,” he explains. 

“However, due to the regulation of frequency, such a physical mobile network normally has to be made into a nationwide network, which is not suitable for some regional and small-scale enterprises. 5G end-to-end network slicing solutions integrate SDN/NFV, network slicing and other related technologies to help different types and sizes of enterprises to have their own service-level agreement (SLA) guaranteed in VPNs or network slices at an affordable price. 

“This will solve the pain-point of costs for operators and ensure that they can meet the demand for private networks, bringing more competitiveness to thousands of enterprises due to more affordable costs and better end-user experience.”

So, what is ZTE doing in the network slicing space? 

The short answer is SliceStore, the industry’s first 5G networking-as-a-service software to sell network slices to vertical industries, enabling the new 5G business models of B2B2C. Through the SliceStore, enterprise customers can customise, purchase, deploy, monitor and operate a network slice from operators. 

“This will help vertical industries to reduce total cost of ownership by using 5G slicing and enhancing the end-user experience, subsequently promoting the sustainable ecology of 5G commercialisation,” adds Tu.

“By enabling the new B2B2C business model, SliceStore supports a large number of vertical industries, especially Internet of Things (IoT) related enterprises adopting 5G networks, and encourages them to develop new use cases supported by 5G in order to increase revenue.”

From an end-user perspective, i.e. the C in the B2B2C model, this can stimulate a better customer experience, as their provider is now directly responsible for the quality (of a video stream, for example) as they can purchase customised network slices to power their services. 

Several successful deployments of SliceStore have already been made, including the launch of Europe’s first SliceStore in partnership with Hutchinson Austria in November 2019. 

A month earlier, the company teamed up with China Telecom to assist Bluetron Industry Group in launchingChina’s first end-to-end 5G slicing and intelligent manufacturing solution, resulting in the development of a smart 5G factory. Since then, China Telecom has declared that it will offer 5G end-to-end network slicing to 20 enterprises in Phase I (2019) and 500 enterprises in Phase II (2020).

Another important breakthrough, also in November 2019, came with China Mobile in Guangdong, when the companies launched 5G end-to-end network slicing via SliceStore. 

“The Guangdong province has the same GDP as Russia with eight percent annual growth rate every year,” explains Tu. “At present, the bay area is the fastest growing area in the global economy, especially in the manufacturing industry where every day sees countless smart factories and innovative companies being set up. 

“With this in mind, Guangdong has a huge demand for 5G, cloud, AI and related new technologies. We believe that the digital transformation of 5G and Industry X.0 will make Guangdong the centre of manufacturing and innovation worldwide in the near future.”

Guangdong represents an exciting testbed for the likes of SliceStore and another connectivity innovations, and Tu firmly believes that more is to come in the way of disruption to every sector of the regional and global economy. 

He concludes: “It is evident that the advances in the mobile network and cloud technology have made significant strides in retail, finance, transport and many other industries. Digital transformation with 5G, mobile edge computing, AI/ML and other technologies will bring innovation to all industries, which is both a huge opportunity and a huge market.”