- Published: 16 February 2023
For the moment, 5G has been positioned as a consumer technology focused on delivering better download speeds and a smoother connectivity experience. While this is true, these benefits are largely a by-product and miss the point of what 5G has been designed to do.
5G is a very different technology to its predecessors. Where 4G focused on connecting people to the internet, 5G has been designed to go beyond this, with the capability to connect vast amounts of ‘things’, as well as people.
There will of course be benefits to consumers, but the potential to revolutionise how businesses function is much more significant. There’s another fundamental difference in the way 5G is designed, enabling customisable capabilities and experiences that have simply not been possible before. A 5G feature called ‘network slicing’ is set to enable the biggest shift in the role that mobile networks play in transportation and smart cities.
To slice or not to slice, what is the use case?
While a 4G network will create a largely homogenous connectivity experience, treating every connection the same way, and sharing network capacity equally, network slicing enables 5G to offer a different mix of capabilities to meet all these diverse requirements at the same time.
Network slicing allows the creation of multiple virtual networks on the same physical equipment. Most importantly, these virtual networks are isolated from each other, which means one cannot impact the performance of another.
Parameters on each network slice can be changed, updated or ripped out and replaced, without affecting the integrity of other applications running on a different slice.
This means you could have a slice of the network which is reserved for the public internet (this would connect all our smartphones), as well as separate slices for more specialist applications. In the transport industry, this enables a very important innovation that would not be otherwise possible – a dynamic transportation system.
Redefining the foundations of the transportation system
In most places around the world, transportation systems are functional but dated. There have been efficiencies introduced, but fundamentally, very little has changed – it is a static and pre-defined system, but it does not have to be.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the objective of 5G networks is to connect everything to everything else. That means smart meters, wearable devices and fridges, but it also means vehicles and traffic lights as well.
If every vehicle is able to share its current location and destination with a local AI-driven transport application, you start to get some very valuable data. By knowing this information, you can alter the patterns of traffic signals to prioritise more congested routes, or even have vehicles take alternative routes to optimise the flow of traffic around an urbanised area.
This is a simple idea (although it is complicated to implement), which improves the efficiency and safety of urban roads, but it would be incredibly valuable.
This idea is enabled by access to data, the underlying powerhouse of the digital economy. With a slice of the network dedicated to intelligent traffic systems, the performance metrics can be adjusted to enable these use cases, and because the slice is isolated from the rest of the network’s internet traffic, you can better guarantee performance, reliability and security.
With vehicles sharing data, there are huge insights that can be learned. If wipers are being used you know it is raining somewhere, if hazards lights are on it indicates the location of an incidents or obstruction and knowing how much battery remains in an electric vehicle could help electricity companies balance supply and demand across the grid.
Long-term, data insight on traffic conditions could impact how public transport services are designed, what roads could be pedestrianised and how cycle lanes can be implemented. All this data can have a significant impact on how a city functions.
A network for everyone, and a network for everything
Over the years, we have had a tendency to define the technology roadmap and then try to find the use cases to justify investment. This is not necessarily the right way to move forward in the digital world, but there is often a “chicken and egg” situation where the network has to act as a catalyst for the use cases.
But this is why network slicing is so important – it makes the “chicken and egg” conundrum a moot point.
As a telecom operator, we can build the network in the knowledge it can be flexed and adapted to suit different use cases through network slicing. We no longer have to build the network in a homogeneous way, as we can customise the experience across the same physical infrastructure.
This article has discussed how we can make cities smarter, but for those in the energy industry, we might want a network designed to higher density of IoT devices to better support the rollout of smart meters. But for the transport sector, use cases are different, therefore the connectivity requirements will be different. The beauty of network slicing is it offers the freedom to be innovative in ways we could not do before, and without compromise.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Andrea Dona
Quelle/Source: Smart Cities World, 09.02.2023