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Kathrein, a leading international specialist for reliable, high-quality communication technologies, is "actively engaged in 5G discussions" in the Middle East, says CEO and managing director of the Middle East, Ayman Raba, speaking to Telecom Review. Mr. Raba shared fascinating insights about Kathrein's role in the Middle East, its vision in core connectivity areas such as 5G and IoT, and touched on Kathrein's 5G antenna solutions introduced at Mobile World Congress this year.

What is your vision for Kathrein in the Middle East and what do you want to achieve?
With almost a hundred years of experience in the business of telecommunication equipments, fueled with German engineering, Kathrein has always been the name associated with antenna solutions whether in mobile communications antennas, broadcast antennas, satellite reception antennas, automotive or radio frequency identification (RFID). Kathrein has been in the Middle East for several decades, tracing our journey back to the sixties when we supplied broadcast solutions across the region followed in the nineties by mobile communication antennas for several leading mobile operators across the region.

My task in the region is not only to maintain this pioneer leadership, but to bring another ingredient to the market through a 3 pillars strategy aiming at enhancing the mobile experience in the region. First, by creating business value to customers by optimizing the total value of ownership through our state of art solutions arm, which is uniquely positioned to develop the solution, providing most optimized total cost of ownership (TCO) along with the best total value of ownership (TVO).

The second one is creating technology value to customers through state of art German engineering back office, providing technology leadership focused on maintaining maximum modularity, scalability and future proof solutions. The third one is creating customer value by extending our sales force to proactively work with customers to provide solutions for problems yet to exist, along with creating strategic win-win relationships with our customers to ensure closing the loop and creating the maximum value of ownership for them.

What can you share about the 5G solutions Kathrein presented at Mobile World Congress this year?
5G was one of the most important themes at Kathrein's exhibition stand. In Barcelona, we were able to demonstrate Kathrein leadership of the unique 5G antenna solutions that successfully attracted lots of the telecom industry's attention as well as the technology analysts.

We presented different prototypes of 5G antennas ranging from 5G dipole antenna to 5G glass ceramic and 5G glass antennas. We are happy to announce that we are ahead in the space of 5G where Kathrein is developing and successfully testing next generation technologies. Kathrein also presented new technologies for 5G, demonstrated unique solutions and service expertise in core connectivity areas including the internet of things (IoT), building digitalization, automotive and mobile communication. With Kathrein group Vision 2022, we look ahead to the network of the future and outline future connectivity demands and solutions in different geographies.

How would you describe Kathrein's Network Vision 2022 and what does it entail?
Kathrein has prepared its Network Vision 2022 to cater for the evolution of the connected world of tomorrow. To be able to cope with the enormous increase in data rates in the future, mobile network operators will have to expand and upgrade their networks to ensure customers have powerful and reliable services. Mobile communication networks will also have to meet new demands in such areas as Industry 4.0, IoT or connected cars.

The relevance of megatrends as well as trends in technology and markets to the network of the future was the focus of intensive discussion in the analysis phase. Kathrein deduced six prognoses from these discussions: massive data where the amount of data will increase significantly, massive connectivities as the number of connected devices will be many times higher than the world population (researchers expect 21 billion connected devices by 2020) and coverage anytime, everywhere (areas without network coverage will be provided with a new network infrastructure).

In addition, convergence and virtualization (all applications will be transmitted via convergent networks, and many network components will be replaced and complemented by software solutions) as well as new business models (multiple new business models will be enabled) and overall security (data and applications will require effective protection that is permanent and universal). These six Kathrein prognoses will significantly influence the transmission and access networks of tomorrow. It was from these that our group CEO Mr. Anton Kathrein derived Network Vision 2022.

What can you tell us about Kathrein's research and development into 5G technology?
The essence of 5G are three main purposes: one is capacity and massive data to serve the ever-increasing need for data; the second one is "five nines" reliability coupled with hyper connectivity, connectivity anytime and anywhere; and the third one is low latency as we need to serve a wide range of critical-time applications like connected cars which need better response times. The conclusion is that we have to develop a completely new radical architecture which is called sliced networks.

Of course, Kathrein has the core capabilities to capitalize on when developing 5G solutions, as we have decades of RF (radio frequency) knowledge in the company; moreover, we have almost a hundred year of experience in the RF performance of various materials which gives us a big pool of knowledgebase.

Our investment in 5G and in developing a 5G roadmap started five years ago when we started the initial basic research activities together with global leading research institutes, and then we started to engage in the standardization bodies since 5G is a broad topic covering not only antenna technologies, but also new network architecture.

Going from there, we identified the first lead customers where we jointly developed the design of the prototypes to conduct the first testing in the lab, and after that in the field. Our goal and our big target are the Winter Olympics in South Korea which is our first showcase of the potential of the new technologies. Together with these customers, and of course with our industry partners, we are defining now the date and the rollout of the first product.

Last year Kathrein operated one of the first LTE and 5G test beds in Rosenheim, Germany. The test bed is an open program started with Ericsson, Telefonica, BMW and other manufacturers. 5G-related technologies such as active antennas and massive MIMO have been tested. Kathrein currently owns around 320 patents in 5G technologies which represent one of the strongest next generation patent portfolios in the industry.

Kathrein recently collaborated with Nokia. What details can you share about this partnership and the technology you have been working on together?
Nokia and Kathrein have been cooperating for years in various domains. One of the recent development is related to offering wireless broadband connectivity in suburban and rural areas worldwide where no or limited internet connection is available.

Nokia's FastMile concept provides households/business premises in suburban and rural areas with a powerful and reliable broadband internet access by means of LTE radio frequencies.

Nokia's FastMile concept uses existing LTE basestations. These are expanded by special Kathrein antennas. There is no need to set up new radio sites, which means significant cost savings and improved total value of ownership (TVO) for the network operator. Nokia plans to launch this innovative solution around mid-2017.

What other partnerships has Kathrein formed in the Middle East and what projects are being developed?
Kathrein works in tri-fold mode. First; when it comes to sales model and better serving our customers, for local to local sales, we understand that some customers prefer dealing with local integrators where we have just launched a new revamped partnership program with local system integrators and with partners delivering products and services on ground.

Second, for turnkey RAN projects, we are working very closely hand-in-hand with our main OEM RAN vendors to provide one voice to our customers. Third, for customers preferring to deal directly with antenna suppliers, we have our own sales force ready and agile to maintain customer relationships and provide superior solutions.

In regards to the main projects across the region, we are actively involved in rolling out cellular projects ranging from TETRA/public safety projects moving into 2G/3G/4G projects and finally to 5G where we are actively engaged in 5G discussions – in collaboration with two leading RAN vendors – to provide the first 5G trials to two of the leading operators in the region.

We also plan to rollout a new generation of indoor mobile with two of the leading operators in the region using our K-BOW solution, which represents a new generation of smart active and flexible indoor solutions that redefine indoor mobile; it creates a unique ecosystem with seamless integration. This solution will enable multi-operator and multi-standard capabilities, which means there will be one installation for all network operators and for all technologies ranging from critical communications to 4G as it is future-proof (supports all LTE-Advanced features like MIMO or carrier aggregation).