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5G has become more than just a buzzword and this is particularly evident in the MENA region since 2019. Nokia, one of the region’s most prominent players in the 5G space, has been at the forefront of innovation throughout the development of network infrastructure, be it 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G.

The use cases that have been made possible through 5G are incredible and we are merely scratching the surface. 5G is set to enhance so many existing use cases and introduce new ones. We have seen this next-generation technology revolutionize healthcare, gaming and manufacturing, among many others. Now, with the advent of 6G on the horizon, it makes one ponder what else could be made possible.

Telecom Review managed to secure an interview with Ulla-Maija Simola, head of mobile networks MEA at Nokia, to discuss these topics in greater detail and to gain some insight into Nokia’s 5G journey so far.

What is 5G to Nokia, and what makes Nokia’s 5G infrastructure unique?

5G, the next generation communication technology, enhances current use cases and brings a variety of completely new use cases in.

For example, 5G Fixed Wireless Access (an early 5G use case) has been important for the home offices, which emerged as a result of the COVID-19 prevention measures. As 5G is still in its early phase, the full span of use cases is still to come. I am personally very interested in Industry 4.0 related 5G use cases, where we have trials already ongoing.

Nokia is unique in many ways vis-a-vis 5G capabilities. As we have already a sizable enterprise business unit to serve enterprises, and we have lots of insights on customer use case needs and can design our solutions accordingly.

We also have the uniqueness to offer a complete 5G solution (devices, radio, core, deployment, integration) and any combination of the components inside. Additionally, we can run the 5G network operations services, if the customer wants.

Nokia is embracing openness; this has been at the heart of the company’s strategic position for decades. We are a very active member of ORAN, which standardizes the open interfaces in 5G radio architecture.

If we look deeper into Nokia technology, we have many areas to be proud of. One of them is our radio portfolio. We have a big variety of single, dual and triple band remote radio heads (RRH) with integrated PIM (Passive Intermodulation) cancellation, but we can also build a three-sector site with one RF Module only. Our Small Cells portfolio is recognized by many analyst houses as an industry leading product.

We can also provide high investment protection with low TCO for 5G entry, as our installed Remote Radio Heads (RRHs) are 5G upgradable from 2012 installations onwards.

Many customers embrace our latest microwave technology on the transport layer. Nokia Wavence portfolio upgrades provide higher throughput capabilities. It introduces innovative, high-capacity ultra-broadband transceivers (UBT) to support operators as they transition to 4.5G, 4.9G and 5G networks.

Regarding the MEA region, where does 5G deployment stand and what position is Nokia in with regards to the region?

In the Middle East, the first wave of 5G deployments has already been completed. The TD Mid bands (2.3 GHz – 3.5 GHz) have been chosen by the operators for the first wave, as they have good amount of capacity (40 – 100 MHz) and reasonable coverage.

This first wave in Africa will be in some parts of the continent in 2021, with South Africa leading the race where the deployments already started this year. Second wave of the implementations will focus on 5G in FDD for coverage, Stand Alone technology for new use cases, indoor 5G and mmWave technology for extreme capacity needs.

Nokia is supporting these deployments and we have a very high conversion rate from 4G to 5G in the market. We also have active network evolution and architecture discussions ongoing regarding the long term position of, for example, new active/passive antenna solutions, virtualized RAN and ORAN in the evolution.

Globally, Nokia 5G momentum is continuing to grow, with over 100 5G deals and 37 live 5G networks with all key operators across the globe including in MEA.

What has been the defining challenge of 5G deployment and adoption since its inception?

From the network point of view, the initial deployments were relatively smooth. For sure we had a learning curve together with our customers related to customer specific configurations and needs. I think the biggest challenge has been the availability of a wider variety of 5G devices. The 5G networks can take in more enhanced mobile broadband users. On the other hand, the 5G FWA has been a tremendously successful use case, particularly in Saudi Arabia. I see a lot more potential opportunities for other operators as well in FWA.

5G is so much more than new radio and it needs a lot of planning and preparation to get a quality comprehensive service up and running. Nokia provides superior consultation in all aspects of 5G service enablement, be it applications, charging, transmission, cloud aspects, 4G/5G co-working, network optimization or security aspects, to name a few.

Do you expect 4G to completely disappear once 5G gains greater ground within the region (especially in the GCC)?

The Middle East and African market has a wide variety of customers with country-specific environments and requirements that we need to cater to. 4G is actually about to be launched in some countries. For sure 4G will have a very long lifetime, as it provides reliable and cost-efficient data access for moderate users. On top of this, good quality LTE network is essential for good 5G user experience, while the 5G coverage keeps expanding. As network operators worldwide commercialize their 5G in non-standalone architecture, it becomes evident that great 5G runs on top of great 4G. In non-standalone architecture, the 5G control information goes through the LTE eNodeBs and the throughput can tap the resources of 5G and 4G through dual connectivity. This means, if you have the best performing 4G network, you are already ahead of the game in 5G.

In the future the operators will look more closely to the usage of right technology for a certain use case. 4G will remain the most cost-efficient technology for many applications for the foreseeable future. It is mature, widely spread and has a very comprehensive device ecosystem.

Currently, where is Nokia in its 6G journey?

Nokia’s research arm, Bell Labs Consulting, is currently studying 6G requirements. From potential 6G use cases we derive the technical requirements. And from there the research moves towards understanding how these requirements can be technically met and standardized.

There are use cases, where 5G is good, but 6G will enhance the user experience. Based on these use cases, Nokia Bell Labs sees 6 requirements for 6G technology as essential:

·        Throughput >100 Gbps and 5Gbps at cell edge

·        Latency <0.1 ms and reliability of nine 9s

·        10 Million devices per km2

·        Precision and accuracy on cm level

·        Adabtability response time 1s, with 0 touch

·        Zero energy devices, devices capable for subnetworking and with intuitive interfaces.

Nokia has also already agreed first research partnerhips regarding 6G with a few operator customers.

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