Nokia pushing operators toward 5G First through NFV and 4.9G

With Nokia charting high interest in its 5G First product from operators across the globe, the networking company has said telcos must first virtualise their core and radio networks, as well as embracing advanced 4G technology.

Nokia will use its network function virtualisation (NFV) and 4.9G solutions to enable telecommunications operators' early adoption of 5G network technology through its 5G First product, the Finnish networking giant has said.

"We are at the verge of something very big," Nokia head of Radio Marketing Kai Sahala told ZDNet at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on Tuesday.

"5G will bring the fourth industrial revolution, so the way people live their lives, the way societies work, the way communities work, the way factories are being automated, the way traffic logistics [are driven] -- it can change a lot of things in this world."

5G First, unveiled ahead of MWC by Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri on Sunday, provides an end-to-end 5G product stack for operators featuring Nokia's cloud radio access network (RAN) product, as well as its AirScale Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) adaptive antennas for the 3.5GHz, 4.5GHz, 28GHz, and 39GHz frequency bands.

"5G is not just about radio -- it's everything. So what we are providing in here is of course radio access based on the AirScale; we have also core network based on the AirFrame packet core; we have 5G acceleration services, which can help operators to transform their networks and figure out the business cases and figure out the steps towards 5G," Sahala explained.

"We have unveiled also a full set of 5G transport options, including meshed backhaul, including fibre, including microwave, so we have a really end-to-end solution for operators to provide a 5G network."

Sahala said Nokia has already received a lot of interest from operators worldwide to adopt 5G First, which will be available in the second half of 2017. Through this, Nokia is hoping to gain an understanding of how it can aid operators in deploying their networks going forward, allowing operators to chart their path towards 5G, Sahala said.

According to Sahala, the US market is notably advanced in 5G network technology adoption -- particularly Verizon, which is trialling pre-commercial 5G services in 11 cities across the US by mid-2017 with Nokia and Cisco -- as well as South Korean telco SK Telecom.

In total, Nokia is engaged with 40 operators globally on 5G trials -- such as with Vodafone and Optus in Australia, and StarHub and M1 in Singapore.

The important thing, however, is developing 5G to a stage where it's "out of the labs and into the field", Sahala said -- and operators must first move their core networks and radio access to the cloud to make use of virtualised functionality.

"Operators are moving their core networks in the cloud, and the next step will also be moving radio access in the cloud," he told ZDNet.

"5G requires cloud; it is a prerequisite for 5G. That's virtualising the networks, so rather than running the network elements, network functions on traditional monolithic hardware -- each of the elements can even be on different hardware -- so rather than doing that, have the network functions run on generic IT hardware. We have our own IT hardware which we provide, which is called AirFrame."

Sahala added, however, that in the meantime 4G networks need to be "kept in good shape", with Nokia aiding this through its 4.9G product.

"We have introduced 4.9G, where the operators can actually upgrade their networks to be on a good sustainable level for the 5G users to fall on when they are out of the 5G coverage," he said.

"So the 4.9G is about providing a new platform which is also 5G ready; it is about providing faster speeds as an increase over 4G, so we are talking about way more than 1Gbps throughput per user; it is about moving to cloud, cloud RAN, so that then you have a very similar layer in 5G when 5G finally comes in."

Suri also expressed the view that 4G has much left in it before 5G is adopted.

"I believe 4G will coexist with 5G for a very long time. 5G is going to be so much about densification," he said on Sunday.

"I don't people fully understand there's a lot of runway for 4G to happen."

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