PARTNER FEATURE: Mobile operators face significant obstacles in catering to the potentially lucrative but diverse enterprise sector, as their 5G services designed for consumers must be tweaked for each business, making the offering pricey and often overly complex for IT departments to manage.

Add to this spectrum constraints in many countries, and the overall business proposition of a private 5G network is often not feasible for many enterprises.

Globally, operators have deployed 176 commercial 5G networks, with 1.5 million base stations and 500 million next-generation users. In China alone, the three major operators rolled out some 1 million 5G sites in less than 18 months and reached more than 20 per cent penetration.

Those buildouts required huge investment in network gear and spectrum. GSMA Intelligence forecasts that between 2020 and 2025, mobile operators across the world will spend $1.1 trillion on capex, with more than three-quarters of that 5G-related.

Uptake of new 5G service plans has been brisk across China, South Korea and the Middle East, with modest gains in ARPU. However, there is a growing consensus that to recoup their sizeable investments operators must be able to expand revenue beyond core consumer services. This requires monetising their 5G assets by targeting B2B verticals.

Analysts agree there is no one-size-fits-all approach to catering to businesses, which makes it challenging for operators to develop a clear plan for delivering affordable 5G private services to enterprises, particularly SMEs.

Tech into services
Jason Tu, ZTE’s principle scientist of NFV/SDN Products (pictured below), explained the company laid out the objective to turn 5G network technologies into simple, cost-effective enterprises services.

Its engineering team developed a network slicing offering that delivers a private 5G-as-a-service to vertical industries, lowering the barrier to entry in the B2B space. The company’s web-based Network Slicing Store is designed to help operators monetise their 5G assets.

For vertical industries, the online platform enables them to customise, operate and monitor a private 5G network managed by their local operator, resulting in increased production efficiency, faster time to market, and lower opex and capex. In addition to sharply reducing the total cost of ownership, the flexible service can improve the end-user experience.

In the past, Tu noted that the only way for an enterprise to access a private 5G service was to build a physical network, which meant only large organisations could take that route, as it required a huge capital investment as well as substantial opex.

The store differentiates itself by offering vertical industries the capability to purchase customised private 5G services, based on specific network KPIs, rather than a generic grouping of capabilities offering best-effort on a standard network, he said.

The Slicing Store provides a number of predefined private 5G templates based on factors such as coverage area, terminal type (handset, meter, sensor, etc) and general network KPIs.

Tu explained this makes it convenient, fast and economical for vertical industries to purchase private 5G services. “It takes only a few minutes to select, pay and deploy a typical network slice.”

Network view
To beef up the visual capabilities of the slicing store, ZTE worked with China Mobile and its partner Whale Cloud to design a measurement tool to give customers the ability to control and manage end-to-end service level agreements (SLAs) of 5G private networks.

Based on R16 QoS monitoring and using measurement assurance technology, the service offers multidimensional, multi-method and multi-vendor monitoring, providing user level, slice level, data network name level and equipment level views.

“As a key to 5G monetisation, providing precise SLA measurement of 5G networks can deliver a real-time view of the network, highlighting fault location and offering preventive network optimisation,” Tu said.

He added by exposing the customised slices to vertical industries, operators can transform from being single B2C traffic providers to offering B2B, B2B2C and B2B2B diversified operations.

Narrowing digital divide
In addition to simplifying the deployment of private 5G, ZTE also developed a one-stop digital infrastructure platform, combing both network and cloud services, to overcome the shortcomings of existing public cloud services in emerging markets, which are often more expensive and low quality.

The iCube integrates edge cloud services to ZTE’s mobile and fixed access, core network and transmission equipment in the same site. The company assisted 15 vertical fields including mining, manufacturing and healthcare, around the world in their 5G and digital transformations by deploying the solution.

“iCube enables emerging markets to enjoy reliable, efficient, economical and secure ubiquitous cloud services as they introduce 4G and 5G networks,” Tu said.

Slicing success cases
Hutchison Drei Austria teamed with ZTE back in 2019 to launched the first Slicing Store in Europe and already offers more than 20 slice templates, including eMBB and ultra-reliable and low-latency communication options for mobile entertainment, remote education, environmental monitoring and industrial control.

The operator’s end-to-end network slicing operation enables the operator’s business customers to set SLA parameters, such as guaranteed bandwidth and maximum latency, based on the specific characteristics of their requirements.

Tu said if the number of users increases or the KPI performance decreases, the system can automatically adjust its resources to maintain KPI. “The slicing solution can be widely used in vertical industries to meet variable requirements.”

Research company Strategy Analytics earlier in the year highlighted ZTE’s slicing service in a report on 5G monetisation, noting using a self-service slice store concept opens up opportunities by supporting new business models.

Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of Service Provider Strategies at Strategy Analytics, stated: “Ease of use for end-users and partners is essential. ZTE has been a leader in exploring the potential of network slicing to deliver additional value to mobile operators, ecosystem partners and end-users in a range of commercial trials.”

She concluded that for 5G network slicing to live up to its potential, it is important for the mobile ecosystem to more fully consider and develop business models for network slicing services.

Industry analysts insist that for 5G networks to achieve commercial success in the B2B sector, sophisticated network slicing services are needed, with ZTE’s slicing store setting the industry standard for innovation.