Nokia is commercializing two private wireless solutions with the goal of seeding an ecosystem for 5G in a wide range of industries. The company says it has learned from its experience with private LTE networks that when equipment makers start adding connectivity chipsets to their machines they can create a virtuous cycle. When more devices can use the networks, more companies invest in private wireless networks, which in turn drives demand for more equipment.
“We’ve realized that without a healthy ecosystem the private wireless networks will be pointless,” explained Stephane Daeuble, head of marketing for enterprise solutions at Nokia. "So this is probably our prime driver for this launch -- helping that industrial ecosystem."
The launch comprises two private wireless solutions: Nokia's Digital Automation Cloud and its Modular Private Wireless solution. Daeuble described the Digital Automation Cloud as a "pre-integrated, plug and play, as-a-service solution" that will be commercially available late this year. He said that with this solution, some applications run at the edge and some in a cloud, which can be a Nokia cloud, a service provider cloud or another cloud. The Modular Private Wireless networks are fully customizable end-to-end solutions and are set to be in enterprise trials this fall, with full commercialization expected next spring or sooner. Both solutions leverage Nokia's AirScale radio portfolio, which now includes mmWave for private wireless.
These offerings build on Nokia's existing private wireless offerings at so-called 4.9G, which uses cloud-RAN and large antenna arrays to boost LTE speeds to 1 gigabit per second or more, and can reduce latency to less than 2 milliseconds. Nokia is also enhancing its 4.9G portfolio with the addition of radio support for Band 87 (410MHz - 430MHz), extended support for network slicing on private wireless solutions, and TD-LTE config 0 uplink bandwidth increases. Daeuble said Nokia can configure radios to use up to 75% of available bandwidth for uplink, which can be very important for private wireless networks.
“We recognize that 4.9G/LTE, which handles more than 85% of industrial applications, will continue to be the foremost private wireless solution for some time," said Raghav Sahgal, president of Nokia Enterprise, in a press release. "With this announcement we bring the best of both worlds. We are offering customers the choice to start with 4.9G/LTE, and evolve to 5G as the ecosystem matures, or alternatively, to go ‘direct to 5G’ – validating the technology and driving OEM and industrial asset vendors to develop a thriving 5G ecosystem.”
Daeuble said some companies will definitely choose the 'direct to 5G' route when it comes to private wireless. He said this is common in a few markets where the spectrum dedicated to private wireless has a very limited ecosystem. "If you're going to have to wait anyway for a new chipset to support that band, for example, then you might as well wait for 5G ... there are a couple of those markets out there," he said.
Many manufacturers are also waiting for 5G, Daeuble said, especially the automakers, since they often design cars up to 5 years before they will hit the market, and then design factories to make the cars. "They need to start validating the technology so that when they design the factory they can design it around 5G," he said.
Nokia already has 5G private networks deployed for several customers, including Lufthansa Technik, Sandvik, Toyota Product Engineering Company and Deutsche Bahn. Lufthansa Technik uses its network to enable cameras and sensors that facilitate remote inspection of airplanes that are being repaired. Toyota is using a private network to help develop the next generation of manufacturing application machine tools. Deutsche Bahn is using its network to validate future applications for use on trains, and Sandvik is deploying 5G at a test mine in order to trial robotics, remote and autonomous operations, full-fleet automation, analytics and enhanced safety technology.
Of those four customers, Daeuble said Deutsche Bahn is the only one using the company's Modular Private Wireless solution, while the rest are using its Digital Automation Cloud. He said roughly half of Nokia's 5G private wireless network customers choose the more customizable modular solution, and that the biggest determinant of which choice customers will make is the level of involvement of the customer's IT team.