Nokia: An Unsuspecting Player Laying the Groundwork for 5G


The Finnish company Nokia once reigned for 14 years as the world’s largest mobile phone handset maker and contributed heartily to Finland’s economy, employing 32,000 people. The company never got into the smartphone market and in 2012, it lost $4 billion; selling the business to Microsoft the following year. But now Nokia is back – behind the scenes – preparing for the 5G revolution.

Even though Nokia is now a smaller company than it was during its prime, it still saw net sales of $26.1 billion in 2016. To keep pace with its competitors, Ericsson and Huawei, Nokia has reinvented software for the cell tower that “aims beams of data at individual users as they move through the world,” reported Bloomberg. This move towards sophistication in connectivity will be ever more important over the next two years as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a daily reality.

In order to make 5G happen, Nokia is already facing some the logistical obstacles head on. According to Lauri Oksanen, Nokia’s head of R&D, “The real bottleneck is the air, from those antennas to your handset.” Nokia researchers are working on a few interrelated technological fixes to ease that logjam and move to untouched higher frequencies on the radio spectrum. The caveat to a higher frequency with a shorter wavelength – between microwaves and infrared waves – is that they can’t pass through walls, trees, or people. Therefore, 5G connectivity will also require the placement of various small cells all around the coverage area and Nokia is working on a way to make antennas “smarter” and more efficient.

One technique that Nokia is likely to employ is MIMO—or Multiple Input, Multiple Output—which involves putting large numbers of very small antennas together and using software to coordinate them so data transmission and reception can be split up faster and more reliably. Another technique, beam-forming, trains the cellular signal like a spotlight on a particular area—and can even track a single user—rather than radiating out in all directions, reported Bloomberg. This is achieved by manipulating the timing of transmission from the different antenna elements.

And it couldn’t come fast enough. Already Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are leading 5G pilots in certain U.S. cities. According to Nokia Chief Executive Officer Rajeev Suri, “I want to be a company that helps large enterprises digitize.”

July 5, 2017        

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