Nokia claims readiness to enable 5G transition ‘seamlessly’

Software upgrade claimed to offer ‘seamless’ transition for installed 4G/LTE technology to 5G infrastructure, avoiding the need for tower climbs enabling immediate enablement of next-generation networks

Just hours before the expected decision by the UK government to rule that Huawei’s technology will be removed wholesale form the UK’s national communications infrastructure, one of the expected beneficiaries from the move, Nokia, is claiming it can “instantly” migrate as many as five million legacy 4G radio units to 5G.

The Finnish communications technology giant announced the availability of a software-based upgrade that it claims will enable its 4G/LTE radios to be migrated “seamlessly” to 5G/new radio (NR) networks. Nokia is confident that such features will have a high value to its customers as they provide immediate support for approximately one million radios, reaching 3.1 million by the end of the year and over five million in 2021.

Moreover, by upgrading existing radio elements via software, Nokia claimed it was helping to streamline the process of “refarming” 4G/LTE spectrum into 5G/NR while also supporting existing customers and the installed base by offering a seamless and cost-effective upgrade path to 5G/NR.

Most of Nokia’s 5G/NR deployments to date have been performed with time division duplex (TDD) cmWave and TDD mmWave deployment, but the next big wave of 5G/NR roll-outs will be delivered by refarming existing frequency division duplex (FDD) bands to 5G/NR. Nokia notes that TDD spectrum can benefit from enlarged coverage and capacity when combined with already deployed FDD network infrastructure and spectrum bands via TDD/FDD Carrier Aggregation.

Nokia believes the ability to upgrade 4G/LTE radios via a software update will significantly smooth out the deployment of 5G/NR FDD, avoiding costly and disruptive site visits. Nokia has a customer base of 359 4G/LTE customers with deployed FDD RF units, most of which it says are possible to upgrade, and sees the new plan as providing a new and smoother way for operators to build 5G/NR coverage in lower bands via spectrum refarming. It claims its radios are “market leading” and outperform all vendors according to independent testing.

Nokia also has Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) already in live networks covering 2G/GSM-3G/WCDMA-4G/LTE, and recently introduced DSS for 4G/LTE-5G/NR. This capability is designed to complete a DSS solution, covering all access technologies and making the radio frequency refarming to 5G/NR a simple and efficient process. In a typical case, DSS will be introduced to one or a few 4G/LTE bands, which are then combined with carrier aggregation between other bands running pure 4G/LTE or 5G/NR.

And perhaps most importantly from a business perspective, Nokia estimates that its solution could save the telecommunications industry potentially tens of billions of euros in site engineering and revisit costs as communication service providers are able to upgrade their networks to 5G/NR on FDD with software.

“While Open RAN promises software upgradability to ease transitions between ‘Gs’ and add new features, Nokia’s Flexi and AirScale portfolio shows it is ahead of the game by providing a software upgrade to transition over five million 4G radios to 5G,” observed Chris Nicoll, principal analyst at ACG Research, looking at the new development. “Efficient FDD spectrum refarming is critical for fast, broad and deep 5G deployments. With Nokia supplying the majority of the world’s top 4G operators, supporting key advanced features such as DSS helps those operators lead with 5G.”

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