Nokia will allow telcos to repurpose existing 4G/LTE radios to support 5G, via an easily-deployed software update. Should we get our hopes up for near-ubiquitous fast mobile internet? Not if previous comments by the company's outgoing CEO are to be believed.
More than five million legacy 4G/LTE networks will eventually be able to receive the software across its base of 359 4G customers, Nokia to The Reg. The Finnish comms outfit has claimed it can migrate a million radios immediately, with 3.1 million by the end of the year, hitting five million by 2021.
The software makes use of dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), which allows both 4G and 5G standards to coexist on the same chunk of frequency-division duplexing (FDD) spectrum.
By no means is Nokia the only firm to take an interest in DSS. Swedish rival Ericsson touted its work in the area in January, announcing trials with Vodafone in collaboration with Qualcomm and Nokia. US network Verizon is also keenly looking into it, tapping up both Ericsson and Nokia.
But it is funny to note that outgoing Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri has previously been vocally dismissive of software-based 5G upgrades, describing them as "meaningless".
"You could in theory upgrade an old laptop to the latest Windows, but the end result would be lousy performance," Suri said in Nokia's Q1 2019 earnings call. "Doing something similar to base stations does not make sense to us and we do not think it makes sense for our customers either."
Suri – who will hand over the reins on 1 August – also voiced doubt on whether operators have any appetite for DSS, saying most "do not see this as a necessary solution in the short to medium term".
Nonetheless, for telcos, Nokia is eager to show the ability to upgrade existing base stations without having to dispatch an engineer to the site. This, the firm said, could potentially save the industry "tens of billions of euros" in costs.
Commenting on the news, Chris Nicoll, principal analyst at ACG Research, said: "While Open RAN promises software upgradeability 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.
"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." ®