Network slicing is an innovative concept that is gaining attention in the telecom industry, particularly with the advent of 5G technology. It involves dividing a single physical network into multiple virtual networks, called “slices,” each tailored to specific requirements. These slices are isolated end-to-end networks that can be customised for different applications, services, or customers.

The technology behind network slicing leverages Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) to dynamically manage and allocate network resources. It also utilises orchestration to handle the lifecycle of slices. While network slicing is closely associated with 5G networks, it can also be implemented on older network standards like 4G.

Network slicing offers several benefits and applications. In situations where there is network congestion or the need for reliable connectivity in critical operations, network slicing can ensure specific customers or services have access to the required resources. For example, during a large event like a music festival or football match, network slicing can prioritise broadcasting needs to ensure swift and reliable coverage.

Additionally, network slicing enables the creation of virtual private networks for enterprises, fixed wireless access slicing for homes and offices, and specialised slices for applications like gaming, streaming, and extended reality (XR). It opens up new opportunities for telecom service providers to target vertical industries and use cases that were previously challenging.

The advantages of network slicing extend to industrial sectors where guaranteed bandwidth, deterministic experience, and controlled latency are essential. Industries such as healthcare, finance, logistics, and manufacturing can benefit from dedicated network slices tailored to their specific needs. Network slicing allows service providers to offer highly customised services to their business customers, enabling them to meet industry-specific requirements. For instance, network slicing has been tested and deployed in areas such as smart grids, automated railways, mining, ports, robotics, and augmented reality (AR) in factories.

The deployment of 5G Standalone (SA) networks is crucial for the advanced capabilities of network slicing, although it can be implemented with other technologies like LTE and 5G non-standalone (NSA). 5G SA networks provide enhanced slicing functionalities, including ultra-low latency, and enable better interoperability and integration between different network domains. However, challenges such as system interoperability, multi-vendor coordination, and device support for multiple slices need to be addressed.

The target market for network slicing primarily consists of industries such as healthcare, finance, and industrial automation. Telecommunications operators, manufacturing firms, healthcare providers, automotive companies, and media and entertainment companies are likely to invest in network slicing to meet their specialised network requirements. Market reports suggest that the network slicing market is expected to reach $1.2 billion by 2025, with significant growth driven by the rollout of 5G and the adoption of network slicing by various industries.

While network slicing is still in its early stages, it is anticipated to become more prevalent in the telecom industry as 5G networks mature. Commercial services using network slicing, such as Fixed Wireless Access and 5G Virtual Private Networks, are already being offered, and more service providers are expected to adopt this technology in the coming years.