The duo say the successful pilot is the first step towards launching commercial slicing services, potentially offering customers a more personalised network experience
This week, Nokia and Safaricom are celebrating an African first with their successful trial of 4G/5G fixed wireless access (FWA) network slicing in Kenya’s Western Region.
The trial took place over a live network, including RAN, transport, and core infrastructure, and demonstrated successful slicing capabilities and continuity over 4G LTE, 5G non-standalone (NSA), and 5G standalone (SA) networks.
The live network featured Nokia’s AirScale 4G/5G base stations, as well as the vendor’s NetAct network management and assurance system and its FastMile 4G/5G customer premises equipment. The slicing functioned on
The trial was also noted as having been ‘multi-vendor’, though no specific additional vendors were named in the announcement itself.
Network slicing has long been touted as one of the crown jewels of the 5G era, potentially allowing operators the to construct virtual data pipelines for individual customers, optimised for their specific requirements.
“Network slicing enables operators the ability to divide a network into multiple virtual slices, which can be optimized for a specific target application or service. The end user of each network slice can then be serviced with different priorities, routing, levels of network performance, and security capabilities. Slices can be managed and deployed in minutes, and each one has key performance indicators used for service assurance,” explained Nokia in a press release.
For the most part, however, 5G slicing has remained out of reach for telcos; while technically possible in a limited form over 4G and 5G NSA, network slicing’s true capabilities can only be realised over 5G SA architecture, which has yet to be rolled out comprehensively in most markets.
For Safaricom, who only launched 5G services in Kenya in March last year, commercialising 5G network slicing will still be a long way off, but this trial nonetheless represents a promising step forward for the nascent technology.
“We are proud to have hosted Africa’s first successful pilot of 4G/5G FWA slicing on our network and looking forward to tailoring our service offerings to individual customers and industries, to meet their needs for high-speed connectivity precisely and without unnecessary cost,” said James Maitai, Network Director at Safaricom.
The operator’s interest in 5G network slicing is well founded. According to a recent study from ABI Research, the global 5G slicing revenue is expected to grow from $309 million in 2022 to around $24 billion by 2028. The report even suggested that 5G network slicing could replace a “a sizable part” of the private 5G market – another rapidly growing market segment for modern telcos – though warned that telcos’ commercial models may need to adapt to achieve maximum benefit.
“A sizable part of this market can be converted to 5G slicing. But first, the industry should address challenges associated with technology and commercial models. On the latter, consumers’ and enterprises’ appetite to pay premium connectivity prices for deterministic and tailored connectivity services remains to be determined,” said ABI’s 5G core and edge networks senior analyst, Don Alusha. “Furthermore, there are ongoing industry discussions on whether the value that comes from 5G slicing can exceed the cost required to put together the underlying slicing ecosystem.”
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