Citing it as a major milestone in bringing 5G to commercial reality in Japan, Nokia announced it signed an agreement with NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile operator, to supply 5G baseband products for a 5G mobile network destined to be commercially operating by 2020.
Nokia said it will support NTT DoCoMo’s commercial 5G operation in Japan by further enhancing existing baseband units and integrating its 5G New Radio (5G NR)-based AirScale hardware in the network, which will provide DoCoMo’s mobile customers with “a unique experience fueled by 5G's extreme high speed, superior capacity and ultra-low latency.”
"The agreement with NTT DoCoMo is a major milestone in bringing 5G to commercial reality, especially in a country with a long and proud history of technological achievements and early technology adoption,” said Marc Rouanne, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia, in a press release. “Together we have worked hard in recent months to commence preparations for NTT DoCoMo's eventual launch of its operational 5G service by 2020, which we have now set in motion by this very exciting announcement today."
The agreement builds on a long-term collaboration between the two companies, going back to at least 3G. They’ve also worked closely on trials of 5G and agreed that Nokia would supply its 5G baseband units (BBUs) to enable centralized management for 5G Remote Radio Heads (RRHs) in preparation for 5G. That aligns with DoCoMo’s 5G road map, which is using existing C-RAN architecture for 5G.
Japan traditionally has used Olympic events to showcase new technologies. Nearly three years ago, Nokia and DoCoMo were demonstrating jointly developed technology at Mobile World Congress 2015 that was designed to form the foundation of 5G networks the duo plan to showcase at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
"We have been collaborating with partners such as Nokia on various 5G technology and use case trials since 2014,” said Hiroshi Nakamura, executive vice president and CTO at NTT DoCoMo, in a statement. “With this agreement with Nokia, we are now proceeding to the next step to launch 5G mobile services by 2020, and accelerate co-creation of new services and businesses with vertical industry partners."
To be clear, Nokia’s technology will be based on the new 3GPP-compliant 5G NR standard, which was published near the end of 2017. Nokia is involved in more than 50 customer trials of 5G technology around the world ahead of expected commercial launches between 2019 and 2020.
Nokia says the deal with DoCoMo is significant because it’s a commercial agreement for 5G radio hardware—not for testing or trial use—and Japan traditionally is one of the world’s leading early adopters of new technologies.