Amid 5G hubbub, Nokia explains its 4.5G Pro moniker

Nokia Espoo HQ
Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland. (Image: Nokia)

Between all the talk about 5G, Nokia executives at CTIA Super Mobility 2016 last week made it quite clear: Nobody’s going to get to 5G without transitional technology between 4G and 5G, and Nokia is intent on supplying that bridging technology.

Nokia has been touting the launch of its 4.5G Pro and future deployment of 4.9G technology. On September 1, the company announced that 4.5G Pro, powered by its 5G-ready AirScale portfolio, would be available in the fourth quarter to help operators meet capacity and speed requirements. It said that 4.5G Pro will deliver 10 times the speeds of initial 4G networks, making it possible for operators to offer gigabit peak data rates.

“What we’ve done with 4.5G Pro effectively is turbocharged what goes at the bottom of the tower,” putting a bigger engine in place to go farther with more carrier aggregation, higher order MIMO, better beamforming, 3G beamforming, and more coming in the specification next year, said Phil Twist, VP, Mobile Networks Marketing at Nokia, during a media briefing at the CTIA show.  “It’s kind of a journey that operators need to go through.”

If earlier iterations of wireless technology migrations represented 10x improvements between “Gs,” then 5G’s target is more like 100x improvement over 4G. Along those lines, Nokia’s 4.5G Pro is, in simple terms, the 10x that goes in the middle. “The fundamental reason that we’re doing this is that we need an LTE network that when you go from 5G radio implementation outside, you don’t fall off a cliff,” Twist said.

With 4.9G, it’s going to the max of what LTE will do, and will have Cloud-RAN producing an LTE network that is capable of less than 10 millisecond latency and several gigabits per second for speed. “The reason this is critically important is because 5G, when the radio interface comes in, the expectation is that this is a complement to 4G networks, it’s not a replacement” for 4G, Twist said. In previous generations, 3G was intended to replace 2G and 4G was intended to replace 3G. “This time, 5G will complement 4G,” and early on, 5G will be built for very specific use cases.

The drivers for actually deploying 4.9G kits will be having the traffic requirements to use it and having the chipsets to enable it to happen, Twist said, noting that 4.5G Pro is in operator test beds now and it will be shipping within a few weeks. 4.9G is set to go out one year later, in 2017.

The geographical markets driving 5G are the U.S., South Korea and Japan. Having a strong presence is important in the U.S. for Nokia’s existing business with Tier 1 operators, but it’s also seeing opportunities with new entrants coming into the space, according to Ricky Corker, EVP of Nokia’s North America market.

“We’re also very active now with the webscale players, with the cable companies. We see a lot of interest now coming around shared and unlicensed spectrum,” he said. “We do believe there will be new players coming into that space.” Nokia also sees public safety as a big opportunity, not just with FirstNet but working with individual municipalities as well, he said.

The 28 GHz band is currently dominating now as the first band being eyed for 5G-type deployments for the Olympics in Korea and early U.S. deployments, followed closely by 39 GHz in the U.S. Depending on how fast things go for 3.5 GHz, it could potentially be ready to pull the trigger before the spectrum from the 600 MHz auction is cleared for usage.

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