“5G will change society,” says Jane Rygaard, head of dedicated wireless networks at Finnish telecoms giant Nokia.
Telecoms networks are no longer about simply making calls, she says. They are about providing more and more network connections that can improve productivity and enable better functioning communities.
“2G, 3G and 4G were people services,” she says. “5G is about what we do as a society.”
Best known as the producer of the once-ubiquitous Nokia mobile phone in the late 1990s, Nokia is today one of the top three biggest providers of 4G networks, with about 360 4G network contracts worldwide supporting 6.1 billion subscriptions, as well as thousands of public and private enterprises. And with 48 5G contracts already signed, including 10 live networks, it is a leading developer of 5G networks.
“5G is here,” says Rygaard. “In 2019, we saw the first frequencies being rolled out in the US and South Korea. 2020 will be a pinnacle year for 5G.”
Investment is needed around the world to build up 5G network capacity. But the level of investment will depend on where a network is today. Operators who have invested heavily in 4G network capacity may seek to reuse a lot of their existing infrastructure.
“In the Gulf, you have a lot of very good infrastructure,” says Rygaard. “So, I don’t think we are going to see a peak at the beginning. This is simply because you already have a lot of this backbone infrastructure in place.”
Nokia has long-established relationships with all of the leading service providers in the region. It operates in 37 markets across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, working with 63 operators. These include 52 operators with 2G networks, 50 with 3G networks, 56 with 4G and 4 operators with 5G.
“There is a strong desire for 5G in the Middle East and North Africa,” says Aji Ed, Nokia’s chief technology officer for the Middle East and Africa region. “5G adoption is fastest in the GCC, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where government initiatives have a clear commitment to a certain percentage of 5G coverage by certain dates.”
“Investment in 5G will grow over the next five years to a likely peak in 2025. Investment over the next two years will mainly be on network infrastructure for early 5G use cases, such as enhanced broadband and fixed wireless access. Beyond that, it will be in advanced use-cases for various sectors toward industry 4.0.”
“When you start building 5G networks, it is not just about building antennae,” says Rygaard. “If you want more than 4G, it has to be full end-to-end networks.”
“We can reuse quite a bit,” she says. “Especially in places where there is a lot of fibre [fibre-optic cable backbone] already. But if you want to get to these more sophisticated use-cases where you start talking about lower latency for response times, machine control, cloud robotics, or autonomous vehicles, then you can’t necessarily use the architecture that you have today.”
Founded in 1865 as a paper mill, Nokia has had many incarnations in its 155-year history, covering a diverse range of industrial sectors including cable, paper products, rubber boots, tires, televisions and mobile phones.
Nokia’s transition to telecoms began in the 1990s. The first GSM call was made in 1991 using Nokia equipment. By 1998, Nokia was the best-selling mobile phone brand in the world.
The creation of Nokia Networks in 2013, laid the foundation for the company’s transformation into a network hardware and software provider. A series of major acquisitions have helped position it as a leader in 5G wireless technology, allowing it to promote itself as the only end-to-end 5G network portfolio available on a global basis.
In the coming years, the company will seek to build on its position as a 5G network provider in the region, with Dubai’s Expo 2020 being a major part of its plans. Nokia is a partner in Finland’s mission to Expo 2020 and Nokia will use the Finnish pavilion as a base to showcase its expertise.
One of the most significant areas for the development of 5G networks, says Rygaard, is the development of local networks to provide dedicated 5G capability in a local area or facility such as a hospital. Potential local networks could include connectivity networks in a hospital tracking life-critical equipment, urban air quality sensing networks enabled by 5G and artificial intelligence with sensors all through a city to track pollution, traffic flow optimisation networks, and smart energy grids. But, she says, to enable the new networks requires change at a regulatory level.
“Worldwide, the regulators can do more where we need a framework that is flexible,” says Rygaard. “In Germany, spectrum is allocated for non-operators with dedicated networks. Other countries differ. The Middle East is ahead because it is government-driven. But in the rest of the world, railways, airports and so on, there is still work to be done.”
“Data centres will be distributed. It is better to have data centres closer to campuses. But it depends on the use-case. Not everything needs to be massive.”
More from this month’s Agenda
- Comment: Inclusivity must be top priority for telecoms firms
- Main Agenda: 5G to feed Mena region’s need for speed
- Expert opinion: What 5G in the Middle East means for business
- Infographic: Caching in on connectivity