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The Middle East has an increasingly diverse tech ecosystem, with many players at the forefront of innovation and transformation while others are still trying to keep up. It is indeed a dynamic market and Nokia has been working with various countries in the Middle East to deploy 5G technology. Telecom Review managed to secure an interview with Nokia’s Bernard Najm, head of the Middle East Market Unit, to discuss the latest developments within the region regarding 5G deployments, how to better understand the region’s needs and finding ways to address these needs.

First of all, could you tell us about your role as head of the Middle East Market Unit at Nokia?

The Middle East is a dynamic market, and as the head of the Market Unit, I have the overall responsibility to drive Nokia business in a diverse market with huge potential with fast adoption of next generation technologies for digital transformation such as 5G. The focus is on growing Nokia market share with existing and new customers by leveraging the strengths of the complete end-to-end portfolio we have.

What is 5G to Nokia, and what sets Nokia’s 5G apart from its competitors’?
The Nokia value proposition provides the simplest upgrade of telecom infrastructure, including radio access, core and transport networks resulting in faster time to market, higher reliability and reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) for the deployment of 5G. Nokia, with our end-to-end focus, is strongly placed to be able to negotiate the complexities of 5G in a ‘real world’ setting and to help customers develop the use cases and solutions that will enable them to benefit from the move to 5G.

The Nokia Bell Labs designed 5G Future X end-to-end architecture covers it all - combining high-capacity 5G new radio, cloud-native core and SDN-controlled ‘Anyhaul’ transport, software orchestration, all-encompassing security solution and 5G acceleration services to provide a complete set of capabilities for efficient and successful deployment of commercial 5G services. The Nokia 5G Future X Solution simplifies the deployment of 5G networks including all generations. Built on open systems with pre-design, pre-integration and pre-validation the solution minimizes the need for the time-consuming and costly post-deployment integration that is a challenge for service providers. Deploying core, transport, radio infrastructure and IT systems for 5G network rollouts just got much easier.

Nokia embraces a culture of open architecture and open collaboration using openAPI common interfaces and toolkits to enable customers to access – and benefit from – embedded intelligence (AI) across the entire network. The new era of the networking is built on openness, where we work with third parties yet still take full responsibility for the end-to-end solutions we deliver.

Collaboration is the most effective way to accelerate innovation, and openness is a guiding principle in a complex environment where customers, collaborators and communities interact openly. With the most open vendor and architecture including applications and devices to quickly embrace innovation from the wider ecosystem and avoiding vendor lock-in for customers.

Foundational high performance and extremely energy-efficient hardware platforms such as ReefShark System on Chip (SoC), FP4 and PSE3 simplify end-to-end scalability and future network upgrades, which will be software only. As are with cloud native cross-domain, when all functions can be flexibly deployed and managed across a distributed cloud infrastructure which simplifies end-to-end scalability, provides service agility, reduces time to market and provides cost-efficiency across radio, core and transport.
Cross-domain services and tools enable optimal network design and deployment across domains. For example, deploying a service-based architecture in a distributed environment is a complex task. Nokia has not only the cross-domain knowledge but also design and deployment tools to do this. It has validated performance, interoperability and end-to-end security beyond radio access for reduced risk, faster time to market and minimal integration costs.

Nokia has the complete portfolio in SDN across WAN and datacenters optimizing the interaction of cloud and transport networking domains for higher networks and service quality in conjunction with better resource utilization. Network functions running on different locations of a distributed cloud infrastructure can automatically be re-located and connected to be able to adapt to changing use case requirements. Nokia EdenNet SON solutions extend automation solutions to the RAN.

We are a key contributor to the global 5G ecosystem by collaborating with leading chipset and commercial OEM device manufacturers, contributing to key ICT partnership initiatives and alliances and driving business partnerships in Industry 4.0.

Nokia is the only 5G vendor with an end-to-end portfolio and a truly global presence. As of mid-July, Nokia signed 44 5G commercial agreements globally, with customers such as Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Zain KSA, du, Ooredoo Qatar, rain (South African operator), NTT Docomo, SoftBank, SKT, KT, LGU+, Telia, Vodafone Italy, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US. Today, Nokia 5G technology is used to provide live commercial services by operators across North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Where does 5G adoption stand in ME, and where does Nokia stand in terms of bringing 5G to the region?

While we see a strong initial appetite for 5G in the US, China, South Korea and Japan, we also see a strong acceleration of 5G launches in the Middle East region in this year. In the Middle East region, our public commercial references include Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Zain KSA (Saudi), du (UAE) and Ooredoo Qatar and you will see many more such announcements in the near future. 

The long-term 5G opportunity for Nokia is huge. Nokia’s number of 4G customers is still rising 10 years after introduction. Of 346 4G LTE customers, all that have awarded 5G contracts so far have chosen Nokia as a key 5G supplier.  We are committed to helping all these customers transition to 5G over this 10-20 year virtuous investment cycle.  Nokia has always placed a premium on productivity and efficiency, but we cannot afford to rush or compromise on the quality of 5G – performance or security.  Nokia builds security as an integral part of all design processes and, like ethics, it is an area where we do not believe in compromise.

How will 5G technology transform individuals, industries in multiple verticals and society as a whole? Which sectors do you think will benefit from 5G the most?

5G technology has enormous potential to transform the way people live and work as well as transform multiple sectors in the Middle East. 5G will provide ultra-high bandwidth and low latency services, as well as new applications in areas such as virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Energy, healthcare, education, transport and entertainment sectors will benefit from various IoT use cases enabled by 5G. These use cases will not only enhance operational efficiencies and user experiences but also provide new revenue opportunities.

The technology has the potential to benefit the industrial sector in a huge way. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be characterized by the digitalization and interconnection of all physical elements and infrastructure controlled by both humans and advanced intelligent systems. This will ultimately impact all major sectors – communication, transport, health, energy, manufacturing, education and more – and will affect global value chains.

What makes the Fourth Industrial Revolution fundamentally different from the previous ones (pioneered in industrial manufacturing, driven by the introduction of steam engines, then a shift to electrification and eventually the move towards the so-called “Information Age”, signified by personal computing, mobile phones and the internet) is the interconnectedness of all the different enablers (primarily advanced connectivity - now driven by the introduction of 5G technology - combined with data science and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) plus the continued rise of automation and robotics) - is the unprecedented speed at which innovation and the diffusion of technology are driving productivity enhancements.

Some examples for significant productivity enhancements in a diverse range of sectors are:

Digital transportation networks: While the development of highways and ownership of cars played a key role in the growth of transportation networks in the past, there is a limit to how much this infrastructure can bear. Digital technologies are already driving a new reality, with the emergence of autonomous vehicles that use a multitude of sensors to measure their environment, and AI systems that analyze and propose optimal actions to smoothen traffic flow.

Digital health networks: Digitalization will play a significant role in improving healthcare by enabling comprehensive and continuous monitoring of people’s health, improved preventive care, more accurate diagnoses and the efficient delivery of treatment through a combination of sensing technologies connected to cloud-based intelligence systems.

Digital energy networks: Digitalization will play an important role in more efficiently managing the generation, distribution and consumption of energy from both traditional and renewable resources. Smart meters and smart-grid networks will enable the optimal matching of supply and demand for energy networks.

For example, Nokia and Dawiyat Integrated Telecommunications and Information Technology Company, part of Saudi Electricity Corporation (SEC), have agreed to collaborate on multiple projects to develop the ecosystem for Industry 4.0 in the country. Nokia's path-breaking solutions and Dawiyat Integrated's vision will together help in building infrastructure for the next generation of services.

Digital production networks: Highly distributed ‘edge’ clouds, and ultra-low latency (~1ms) as well as ultra-high bandwidth (10 Gbps) connections will enable the recreation of physical goods close to the end users, and allow custom-made, on-demand manufacturing with minimal tooling or transportation delays, optimally aligned with fast-changing customer expectations.

Middle East-specific 5G use cases

Specific examples we already see being developed for Middle East include:

  • Reusing and optimizing the limited spectrum in the Middle East to dramatically improve network capacity in hotspot urban areas and events such as Hajj and major sports events.
  • To broadcast full interactive HD VR and holograms for key events such as Hajj, speeches by top government executives, concerts, etc.
  • Low-latency, ultra-reliable connected cars as expected to be developed in Dubai.
  • High level of government and public security, building on previous 4G public safety networks and taking it to the next level.
  • Fully replacing the need of fiber to the home (FTTH) with equal or better fixed wireless connectivity.
  • Enabling digital top-quality education across the Middle East, with full classroom interactive experiences for remote schools by interactive HD VR projections.
  • Fully automating, monitoring and controlling shipping and container ports across the Middle East with high bandwidth, highly secure low-latency 5G networks.

Use case test with Port of Hamburg, Germany
In a world first, the Hamburg Port Authority, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia test new aspects of the 5G standard using various applications in real-world industrial conditions at the Port of Hamburg in Germany. Three case studies using real-life applications demonstrate the reliability of the new standard. In the first, partners have installed sensors on ships belonging to HPA's subsidiary, Flotte Hamburg GmbH & Co. KG. These sensors transmit movement and environmental data in real-time from across large swathes of the Port. In another example, a traffic light has been linked to the mobile network and can be operated remotely by the HPA control center to control traffic as it flows through the Port. Trucks, for example, are guided quickly and safely around the site. In the third example, the new standard makes high data volumes available quickly outside of existing networks, transmitting 3D data to an augmented reality application. Smart glasses use the information to show wearers building data relating to future or former structures in a real environment. In future, this technology will help engineers to monitor or optimize construction planning directly on site at the Port.

What challenges do operators face in the Middle East with regards to 5G adoption and how does Nokia address these challenges?
Immediate challenge for the operators for the 5G deployment is the availability of spectrum. However, there have been a lot of initiatives by various regulatory authorities of GCC countries to allocate the 5G spectrum in time. Accordingly, most of the early adopter operators in Middle East have got sufficient spectrum for 5G. This helped them to get a head start for pioneering 5G deployments in 2019.

5G is still maturing as a technology and the ecosystem is also under development. The availability and affordability of 5G devices are major issues at present and expected to be resolved over the next couple of years.

Operators also need to create the right business models for 5G, taking the new use cases into account. Nokia is committed to working with CSPs for the enterprise market fully leveraging our end-to-end 5G solutions.
When do you expect the rollout of fixed wireless access of 5G networks?
One of the key drivers for 5G is to offer gigabit data rates to the customers due to the huge amount of spectrum available in >2GHz spectrum allocations. We are engaging with major operators across the region for the launch for fixed wireless services. Operators see 5GTTH/FWA as an opportunity to offer high speed broadband services to their customers and as an alternative to wireline broadband, specifically where such wireline broadband deployments are costly and/or difficult to implement.

5GTTH/FWA can also reduce the time-to-market for offering such services. Optus in Australia has already commercially launched 5G services with Nokia infrastructure and CPEs.

Will we see 5G greatly enabling smart cities in the region? What role can Nokia play in relation to this?

Building on our track-record from 4G/LTE, including NB-IoT technologies, we are engaged in a number of smart cities projects in the region, and 5G will further expand the range of applications. 5G specifically has potential in the segment of AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) for a wide range of applications for city government services to residents, tourists, industrial use cases, among others.

AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) has a wide range of applications in video processing including public-safety, as well as preventive maintenance improving reliability of complex systems. We at Nokia have reinvented our company over the last few years - from “connecting people” to “connecting the world”.

How much of an impact has 5G had on network security parameters and how do you address the neo-security requirements?
With 5G technology expected to increase the number of applications in IoT and smart city areas, telecom operators expect increased security threats.

The challenging nature of 5G networks to support unique and diverse business requirements of various sectors have rendered current network security less than adequate. For example, multi-tenancy in 5G networks, i.e. infrastructure sharing by multiple virtual network operators also known as network slicing, will require strict isolation at multiple levels to ensure absolute security.

In 5G networks, reliability does not only refer to the network infrastructure but also to ensuring high connectivity, infinite capacity and coverage (and other promised 5G features) anytime and anywhere. This implies a security makeover of how confidentiality, integrity and availability will be maintained and managed in 5G networks. Furthermore, the complexity of securing a network has increased due to the introduction of SDN and NFV in 5G networks.

These are just a few examples of security challenges that are anticipated in 5G networks. In addition, service specific security requirements must also be considered as the 5G ecosystem is anticipated to be service oriented. For example, remote healthcare requires resilient and robust security while IoT demands less stringent security. Security requirements can, therefore, vary substantially.

Nokia’s end-to-end security solutions help mitigate these security risks in a three-step process. We collaborate with 3GPP and other specification bodies to influence the security requirements, which are then implemented into all our products by our DFSEC (design for security process). Lastly, we have a wide range of network security solutions and services that help operators to automate and orchestrate the security requirements by consolidating network security requirements into a single operations view via our SOAR (security, orchestration, analytics and response) approach. It leverages our best-in-class global threat intelligence repository and automated workflow management to help CISOs and CIOs develop an end-to-end visibility and control on their security operations which will become far more critical as the adoption of 5G accelerates.

There have been growing concerns across the world from several governments over 5G network security. How do you address this concern?

Yes, certainly there are growing concerns among governments, operators and other stakeholders worldwide about security risks, and that is why it is highly important to select an appropriate technology supplier with security as a key priority in all its innovations and with high ethical standards in conducting business with its customers.

Security and privacy are built into our product development processes (design for security), and we follow a “no-backdoors” policy in our product development processes.

As there is a growing movement and awareness regarding trust and integrity in today’s businesses, Nokia is pleased to once again be recognized by Ethisphere as one of the 2019 World’s Most Ethical Companies in the Telecommunications category. It has long been part of the Nokia way to treat every business relationship according to the highest ethical standards. Security is in Nokia’s DNA and the company painstakingly maintains high ethical standards in conducting its business with customers.

In what way is Nokia contributing and driving 5G standardization and the tech ecosystem?

Nokia is a key contributor to the 5G ecosystem by collaborating with leading 5G commercial and test chipset manufacturers to complete 3GPP 5G-NR standard based interoperability across 5G network infrastructure and device. It has boosted 5G commercial readiness in 2019, as already proven in quite a number of 5G commercial launches.

Nokia is a key member of ecosystem alliances (5GPPP, 5G MoNArch,5G-Carmen, 5GCAR, 5GCroCo, 5GACIA, 5GAA) for addressing, discussing, and evaluating relevant technical, regulatory and business aspects with respect to 5G and to rollout joint 5G proof of concept projects.

Nokia’s collaboration with leading Industry 4.0 players (example, ABB, BMW, Bosch, Hamburg Port Authority). Our participation in joint 5G projects with them proves our understanding of the requirements in these vertical domains (mMTC, URLLC, Security, E2E network slices delivering SLA) and our capability to deliver 5G solutions infrastructure capable of handling these requirements.

Many of these parties have a global footprint and, therefore, are also highly engaged in the Middle East market. We are certainly open to local collaboration on specific projects and pilots where it makes business sense.

Nokia has played a key role in driving the first set of globally interoperable 5G standards to completion with initial 5G specification (3GPP Release 15) and we continue to aggressively drive towards fulfilling the holistic 5G vision along further ongoing standardization work within 3GPP (in Releases 16 and beyond).

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