Nokia plots path to 5G Massive MIMO and more private networks

While Ericsson showed off its 5G Core and latest New Radio (NR) technologies all at once, as an end-to-end platform (see separate item), Nokia has been putting out pre-MWC teasers one by one, on an almost daily basis. While its Cloud Packet Core was the center of a series of announcements a fortnight ago, it saved its ‘4.9G’ radio updates until the following week.

Like Cloud Packet Core, and its IoT-focused launches such as the WING managed connectivity platform, its latest LTE and pre-5G offerings have a newly intense focus on supporting private networks for vertical industry players. These are presented as being a way for MNOs to expand their business, to provide enterprises with private networks, or in future network slices, which are optimized for their particular requirements. But the elephant in the room is that Nokia – or another vendor, or a cloud provider such as Amazon – could also provide these private networks and slices themselves, using virtualization, bandwidth-on-demand and shared spectrum options.

Like the virtualized EPC and the managed services it enables (see Wireless Watch February 13 2017), Nokia’s latest venture into Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC – a technology it pioneered when the ‘M’ still stood for Mobile) is geared to private enterprise systems. Its MEC-based platform will provide an overlay which will aggregate networks running in multiple licensed, unlicensed and shared bands, and operated by different carriers. The end result will be an umbrella private network for an enterprise, a parallel development with WING in the IoT.

An organization’s own WiFi or private wireless network can be combined with one or more operator systems to boost capacity. The technology is to be trialled first not with MNOs, but with the WiFi operator and aggregator, Boingo Wireless.

For now, though, Nokia’s primary customers are still the MNOs, despite its push into ‘adjacencies’ with higher expected growth. It is seeking to strike the right balance between aggressive moves to early 5G, and meeting the real requirement of many operators to squeeze more out of 4G for many years to come.

Phil Twist, VP of marketing for mobile networks, said: “What we are doing is bringing some of the ideas of what 5G is about into a later version of LTE … We’re certainly not waiting for the 5G specs to be written to show operators how they can evolve their LTE networks into something that provides continuity of service.”

Nokia has added a Massive MIMO antenna array, and a compact remote radio head, to its Airscale portfolio, to enhance the performance and economics of those MNOs’ networks, as they upgrade to emerging LTE generations and eventually to 5G.

The Airscale Massive MIMO Adaptive Antenna uses 3D beamforming to increase cell download capacity by up to five times and upload by up to eight times, Nokia said, “driving capacity increases for megacity deployments”. At MWC, it will demonstrate this technology with Sprint. A range of AirScale Active Antennas will join Nokia’s existing Radio Antenna System.

It is also promising a “world-first” demonstration of ‘Cloud Single RAN’ – a combination of C-RAN and SingleRAN ideas, running virtualized 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G radios, and 2G and 3G network controllers, over commercial AirScale and AirFrame platforms.

“It’s a very clear path for operators, with technology that is compatible with 5G, with speeds and feeds that are compatible with 5G, with IoT capabilities, and therefore you can see this as a long term complement to 5G and a very good evolution of the investments that operators have as well,” Twist said. “This implementation fits the way that 5G will be built. And it starts to bring in some of the speeds that you need, it starts to bring in some of the latency reduction that you need, it starts to bring in some of the resilience and throughput that you need.”

Nokia also unveiled the AirScale Micro Remote Radio Head, which harnesses LTE-LAA, allowing an operator to hit 1Gbps speeds using only 20 MHz of its own licensed spectrum – by augmenting this with RRH in 5 GHz unlicensed airwaves for supplemental downlink.

The vendor also said upgrades to the AirScale base station will reduce operational costs by up to 40% as carriers densify their networks; while Nokia Zero Emission 3.0 promises to cut energy consumption by up to 50%. The full 4.9G portfolio will be introduced by the end of 2017.

Frank Weyerich, head of mobile networks products, said: “Nokia introduced 4.5G Pro and 4.9G last year to allow operators to implement network capacity increases where and when it made sense for them. Now we are delivering features that will maximize their resources, speed deployment times and cut power and costs especially in the most densely populated locations. We are making 4.5G Pro a commercial reality now and working with customers to innovate with solutions to their network densification and evolution challenges in 4.9G and beyond.”

Finally, Nokia said it had run a test session in its labs using the specifications from Verizon’s 5G Technology Forum (5GTF). The pre-standard technology ran on an Intel trial platform, in 100 MHz of 28 GHz spectrum.