China’s mobile operators are gearing up to launch commercial 5G services in 2020, and domestic vendors Huawei and ZTE have been busy ensuring that those 5G networks will pass muster when it comes to technological robustness and standards compliance.
In China, at least, it would seem that the two vendors are making progress with 5G developments as they attempt to get themselves back on track following a torrid year in 2018. Although their woes are far from over, in China they continue to focus on carrying out tests under the aegis of the IMT-2020 (5G) Promotion Group, which was established in 2013 as China’s platform to promote 5G research in China. The group has also formed a memoranda of understanding with the 3GPP in Europe and the Fifth Generation Mobile Communications Promotion Forum (5GMF) in Japan to “facilitate globally unified 5G standardization” under the IMT-2020 banner.
China’s 5G R&D trial established three separate phases for verifying a 5G solution: key technologies, technical solutions, and system networking. The third phase was initiated in November 2017, and Huawei and ZTE have already made announcements of successful tests during this phase. Huawei, for example, said in September 2018 that it had passed China’s 5G standalone tests covering aspects such as service-based architecture of 5G core networks and key functions such as network slicing. ZTE also said in October that it had completed several standalone tests at 3.5 GHz as well as all non-standalone tests at 3.5 GHz and 4.9 GHz.
Now, ZTE claims it has “taken the lead” in completing third-phase 5G tests for core network performance stability and security function, “fully verifying the maturity of ZTE’s 5G core network.” Specifically, the test involved the performance of the NFVI platform; the service performance of 5G core network element single/multi virtual machine (VM) deployment; and system capacity and stability.
The vendor added that the latest version of its 5G core network was developed in compliance with 3GPP Release 15 specifications released in September 2018. “By adopting SBA, micro-service components, and network slicing, ZTE’s 5G core network can achieve flexible and agile service innovation,” ZTE said.
OSS/BSS support required for network slicing
It’s interesting to note that Huawei and ZTE have placed a strong focus on network slicing as a core function of 5G. The technology is expected to enable mobile operators to provide portions of their networks for specific use cases — including IoT and smart factories. It is part of the 5G network architecture and will allow operators to create multiple virtual networks using a shared physical infrastructure.
Gartner shined a spotlight on the technology in a recent blog, noting that “network slicing is expected to be the revenue-enabling 5G scenario with the highest ROI potential.”
However, Martina Kurth, research director at Gartner, also warned that the management systems infrastructure for network slicing – in other words, OSS/BSS/CRM — is “ill prepared to support 5G service complexity.” Kurth said network slicing requires a “dedicated operational infrastructure encompassing an underlying cross-domain and per-slice tenant management capability,” including end-to-end service orchestration; network slice configuration and service slice lifecycle management; and network slice service assurance.
In order to realize the business enablement potential of network slicing for digital infrastructures, Kurth advises carriers to “tackle operational and business complexity in terms of cross-domain creation, design, and instantiation of network slices for event-based and transactional 5G services, and overcome constraints on current OSS/BSS.”
ABI Research predicted recently that network slicing will create $66 billion in value for enterprise verticals by 2026, and said the main verticals that the technology will impact are manufacturing, logistics, and transportation.