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Nokia stands alone on ‘5G non-standalone’ standards

Nokia 5G First

Nokia kicked off MWC 2017 with the announcement of a new comprehensive 5G solution but the vendor was conspicuous by its absence from a new industry collaboration designed to speed up the 5G standard.

At a pre-event launch bash in Barcelona, CEO Rajeev Suri confirmed Nokia is readying itself to launch 5G FIRST – an ‘end-to-end’ (for a change) proposition consisting of RAN, packet core and transport solutions. The announcement is a precursor to a live rollout alongside Intel later this year and is geared towards providing operators with a one-stop-shop for early 5G adoption, with the technology developed based on early standardisation efforts.

Speaking in Barcelona, Suri called 5G FIRST “the industry’s first end-to-end 5G real world”, and confirmed the solution is being developed in collaboration with Verizon’s 5G Technology Forum and the KT Special Interest Group. Of particular note is Verizon’s 5GTF, which is developing its own framework for pre-standardisation – and intends on deploying 5G service pilots in 11 US cities this year, following the announcement of its forthcoming 5G fixed wireless access trials with Samsung.

However, it was events unfolding elsewhere that left Nokia looking conspicuous by omission. An amalgamation of the telecoms industry’s biggest global operators and vendors announced their support for the acceleration of 5G New Radio (5GNR) standards. With the next 3GPP RAN meeting coming up in just over a week, the objective is to set the agenda now and propose the first phase of radio specs ahead of the meeting.

The specific configuration being lobbied for within the proposal is called ‘Non-Standalone 5G NR’, which focuses on using existing LTE radio and packet core infrastructure as a basis for early 5G radio work to begin over the top, with certain 5G use cases starting in 2019. The hope is that Non-Standalone 5G measures being put in place now will serve as an intermediate milestone and expedite the schedule for fully Standalone 5G NR in the upcoming 3GPP Release 15.

There are an extensive number of players involved with the collaborative proposal, including Huawei, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Intel and LG from the vendor world; and all of the expected major operators, like BT, Vodafone, Verizon, AT&T, SK Telekom, Deutsche Telekom and others. Nokia is not on that list of participants, and Suri skirted around the question during an open Q&A session at Mobile World Congress.

The party line from Nokia is that it doesn’t want to distract itself from its own 5G efforts – but we understand there’s a fundamental difference between Nokia’s 5G philosophy and those of its industry peers. The difference in attitudes comes down to whether the individual network components required for 5G are developed and advanced at the same time or sequentially. If only the radio element of the network is being developed, then there is the potential for a disconnect between an advanced radio network and a packet core which isn’t capable of fully supporting it.

Nokia made a flurry of announcements, including an LTE network upgrade project with O2 to bring advanced coverage and speeds to London – a much-needed project for Telefónica’s UK subsidiary. CEO Suri also discussed Nokia’s ambitions of creating a dedicated, successful software business unit over the course of 2017 upon the conclusion of its proposed €347 million acquisition of Comptel – while he also focussed on explaining the plethora of ongoing vertical industry projects Nokia is moving towards this year. There was also an update on Nokia’s drone project in Dubai alongside government communications agency Nedaa – as the two parties continue developing a drone-based network as a service intended for use for emergency communications and smart city applications.

However, it is the discussion over its decision to dodge the 5GNR call from its industry peers that seems to have overshadowed Nokia’s first day in Barcelona, and looks likely to already be one of the week’s biggest talking points.

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