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Ricardo Silva, head of Mobile Networks Product Portfolio Sales, MEA, at Nokia, discusses the vendor's role in creating an evolutionary path to 5G for its customers in the region. Nokia Mobile Networks' strategy in MENA, says Silva, focuses on helping CPSs make use of the capacity opportunities of new unlicensed spectrum and driving core network evolution through the cloud.

What is Nokia's sales strategy for its Mobile Networks Business Group in the Middle East and Africa market?
Nokia Mobile Networks' strategy for Middle East and Africa is aligned with our company strategy focused around three main pillars: leading in high performance end-to-end networks with CSPs, expanding network sales into select verticals and building a strong, standalone software business.

We build on our current leading position with CSPs through our superior portfolio and a strong go-to-market approach. With our leading position in LTE and 5G-ready AirScale radio, we are supporting to create an evolutionary path to 5G for our customers in the region. We help CSPs to make use of the capacity opportunities of new unlicensed spectrum and we drive core network evolution with our cloud portfolio.

We also focus on leveraging our strengths to expand into carefully chosen adjacencies. This strategy is ambitious, but it is also attainable because we are already well-positioned to lead in new segments such as public sector and enterprises.

For the public sector, we build on our strengths in public safety and transportation, and leverage our LTE solutions. In the technological, extra-large enterprise segment, we intend to disrupt with carrier-grade offerings in wireless connectivity solutions, private LTE and microwave. Leading in connectivity for IoT will see Nokia engaging with CSPs to evolve their networks leveraging LTE and cloud core technology. And, selectively, we will work with verticals, like automotive, to stimulate LTE network upgrades.

How is Nokia working towards making mobile broadband better for operators, public sectors and enterprises in MEA?
As part of our company strategy, we build on our core strength of delivering large, high performance networks by methodically expanding our business to targeted, higher growth, higher margin verticals to ensure superior mobile broadband networks in the region.

While CSPs market remains to be our top priority, we  leverage our main competitive advantage - the industry's most complete end-to-end networks portfolio - to provide our advanced mobile broadband technologies for  four adjacent verticals - energy (utilities, oil, gas, etc.), transportation (railways, aviation, maritime, airports), public sector (public safety, defense, smart cities, etc.), and tech XLEs (select extra-large companies in segments like banking, automotive, insurance and healthcare). The segments that we have targeted are those that will most require high performance networks that allow the running of core business operations in an efficient and secure manner.

Can you share some of Nokia's developments with 5G and how Nokia is working towards early implementation of the technology?
When it comes to radio, as you know, typically, each generation delivers around ten times the performance of the previous generation. Sure enough, that's what happened with 2G to 3G to 4G. But 5G is expected to provide 10Gbps throughput, which means the step up from a straightforward LTE network would be huge.

While there is a lot of interest in 5G, we expect this to be mainstream only during the 2020s in some selected markets in MEA. We expect that significant events such as Expo 2020 in Dubai and World Cup in Qatar 2022 will act as a catalyst to bring 5G applications to the end user. At the same time, as you know, Nokia is already actively developing 5G, which is currently at the trial phase. We showcased 5G FIRST as the first commercially available end-to-end 5G solution at MWC.

What are some of the challenges that you see in 5G implementation in the Middle East as well as Africa region?
There are two dimensions here. Firstly, end user applications need to be validated. An important aspect of any new technology would be the validations of use cases requiring both bandwidth and latency. Although this is common globally for 5G, terminal penetration in many places in the region will still be the major factor to accelerate the adoption of 5G in Middle East and Africa.

Secondly, the infrastructure needs to be ready in all dimensions to support the traffic that will be in the beginning mainly indoors. Radio and transmission support are always the first parts of the network, however a more fundamental change on the architecture is required when moving the core towards a distributed cloud autonomous setup.

Cloud programmable core requires business process re-engineering as well as IT and telco-specific integration. This will drive demand for integration and transformation services.

The new cloud infrastructure is enabled by virtualization and will help operators with solution-led software capabilities to address their service agility and cost challenges and to generate new revenues. Many operators in MEA have finalized the plans and are now undergoing the changes on their respective networks.

From virtualization we move to stateless machines - radically simplified network architecture - and the shared data layer, which makes data available across applications. At the same time this enables new virtual network functions and open APIs. Later, we will see core networks developed specially for cloud functionality. And network slicing gives operators the ability to optimize parts of the network for different features. Finally, we see fully self-organizing networks, with the network running itself.  This is already somewhat the case today, but it will be a characteristic of the 5G landscape.

How will Nokia ensure that operators benefit from their 4G infrastructure spending when 5G comes into play?
To help operators prepare their networks for this big jump, we have two intermediate steps: 4.5G Pro and 4.9G. Let's look at each in turn. In the meantime, what will happen with LTE?  Well, the focus is very much shifting from coverage to capacity and, as a result, LTE will drive operator investment for the next few years. While 4.5G Pro is a step on the path to 5G, it's also the next step on the LTE path. Nokia already has more than 90 customers on so-called 4.5G: 600 Mbps speeds with three to four carrier aggregation combined with 256 QAM. 4.5G enables operators to seek new revenues through NB-IoT and public safety offerings.

Nokia has announced an NB-IoT rollout deal with M1 Singapore, for example. 4.5G can be done mostly with software upgrades to current platforms, so it is an easy way to enhance the network capacity and monetization. However, while 4.5G is a highly competitive platform, it's not necessarily a differentiator for Nokia.

4.5G Pro takes things up a notch, bringing network performance to 1Gbps - around ten times the speed of initial 4G. At the same time, 4.5G Pro brings up to five carrier aggregation with the possibility of using unlicensed bands with LAA. 4.5G Pro requires significant up-scaling of the network, so a new platform is needed. This is the AirScale platform.

Importantly for operators wishing to future-proof their networks, AirScale is 5G ready, so 5G can be built on top of existing investments in 4.5G Pro. And we believe AirScale is not only competitive, but is truly innovative, delivering performance beyond any competing radio solution.

4.9G is the next step, bringing 4G networks to a level at which service continuity with 5G can be assured. It also brings low latency for some critical communications and IoT services, and speeds beyond 1Gbps. 4.9G is the LTE layer that can coexist with 5G far beyond 2020.  Importantly, 4.9G will also make cloud RAN widely available to networks. In fact, some advanced operators are already on this path and world's first cloud RAN is already in commercial operation!