In some good news for Nokia, the Finnish vendor signed a 5G radio access network (RAN) deal with BT, which will make Nokia BT’s largest equipment provider. The price tag of the new deal was not disclosed.
The win is a breath of fresh air for Nokia, which has struggled this year with loss of contracts in China and competition from Samsung, which recently scored a $6 billion deal with Verizon.
Nokia said today it will supply its AirScale 5G RAN equipment and software to BT, and it will also optimize BT’s 2G and 4G networks and provide its cell site gateway product for backhaul connectivity.
BT already has Nokia equipment in the Greater London area and some other locations, but today’s deal will extended Nokia’s coverage to multiple other towns and cities across the United Kingdom.
The announcement comes as BT is required to rip and replace Huawei equipment from its networks. The ban on new 5G equipment takes effect in January. And U.K. operators have until 2027 to rip out existing Huawei 5G gear.
Earlier this year, BT’s Chief Technology and Information Officer Howard Watson said it would cost BT hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with the government’s rules to eliminate Huawei and ZTE equipment from the country’s networks.
BT is currently in the process of switching to an Ericsson core before 2023.
Today, BT and Nokia said they will also collaborate on the development of the open RAN ecosystem. BT belongs to the O-RAN Alliance, but earlier this year BT’s Chief Architect Neil McRae indicated to Fierce that he was not yet all that enamored with solutions that use O-RAN. McRae also said BT isn’t “religious” about virtualization for its own sake, and that sometimes it increases the complexity of operations.
But for its part, Nokia has become more bullish on open RAN.
The vendor recently said it is defining open RAN interfaces that will work with its existing AirScale RAN portfolio of products. Nokia said that by taking the approach of building the open interfaces on top of its existing solutions, service providers can choose to pursue an open RAN path, or not. An initial set of open RAN functionalities will become available this year, while Nokia's full suite of open-RAN-defined interfaces is expected to be available in 2021.