Amid the pandemic that hit the entire globe, the need for high-speed internet has become a necessity since everyone, or the majority of people, are now working from home. In this context, Telecom Review had the chance to speak with Mohamed Salama, head of fixed networks, MEA, Nokia, about the fixed networks portfolio the company has offered.
Could you give our readers an overview of Nokia’s Fixed Networks portfolio and your role as the head of the division at Nokia MEA?
Nokia is a global leader in the broadband business, running the most advanced fiber networks on the planet. Worldwide, roughly 750 million subscribers are enjoying broadband services over Nokia fixed networks solutions.
The demand for stable and high-speed broadband connections to the home has been very strong over the last years, but since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen a significant acceleration. The lockdowns have reminded everyone that broadband keeps economies and societies operate smoothly. Also, the continuous growth of mobile traffic and the emergence of 5G will further accelerate fixed network deployments resulting in an even stronger convergence of fiber and wireless technologies.
As Fixed Networks Business Lead for MEA, my role is to help our customers in this region satisfy their growing need for superior high-speed broadband experience to the home and take the service beyond the network termination point inside the home.
You are a market leader in the fixed networks space. How do you see the fixed networks market across the MEA market going forward?
MEA is a very heterogeneous market in terms of local demography, economy or investment power. At the same time, no countries are left untouched by the trend of higher bandwidth demand. There is no doubt that fixed broadband deployments will keep booming in MEA, home to the world’s most advanced FTTH networks. Nokia has deployed its FTTH network to key operators across the MEA region to bring ultra-broadband access and triple-play services to homes and enterprises.
In a large part of the region, we will continue to see an increased broadband momentum and copper-to-fiber transformation. Operators will stay focused on continuous network expansions, some will also move to the latest technologies such as next-generation PON, low-latency Wi-Fi 6 or Software-Defined Access Networks.
At the same time, we see in these same markets an increased push for fixed-wireless solutions that are strategically positioned to challenge local incumbents market share or growth. For example, Nokia is partnering with Zain in Saudi Arabia and Vodacom in South Africa to deliver a Gigabit experience to its subscribers using 5G fixed wireless while enabling Wi-Fi 6 inside the home through self-optimizing mesh technology.
In some MEA counties, fiber and 5G deployments will take more time. In such a scenario, 4G fixed wireless provides operators a short-term opportunity to offer increase broadband services. Our 4G FastMile solution has been designed to keep the overall TCO under control while optimizing radio resources and spectrum utilization.
Fixed wireless also provides an excellent opportunity to connect the unconnected. For instance, Nokia has teamed up with UNICEF and the Government of Kenya in a multi-partner collaboration to pilot internet connectivity and digital learning to disadvantaged Kenyan schools through 4G fixed wireless. Governments are also investing in fixed broadband for Industry 4.0 across the region.
What are the benefits that fixed networks offer compared to wireless networks?
In the context of broadband access, both fixed and wireless networks have certain trade-offs depending on the use case and how it fits in the specific CSP’s strategy. Fixed broadband transformations – just like wireless networks – are driven by fiber densification. In general, fiber remains the most future-safe option as it provides virtually unlimited capacity upgrade capabilities. Today, XGS-PON deployments are becoming mainstream delivering 10 Gbps symmetrical line rate, with 25G symmetrical 25GS-PON option set to become available later this year. We’re also very active in the specification work for technologies beyond 25G (e.g. 50G, 100G).
In addition, fixed networks provide stable and reliable symmetrical connection speeds. They are designed for massive consumption at home, with relatively low statistical multiplexing, allowing multiple users access to peak capacity at the same time. With the emergence of video-streaming services, online gaming, VR/AR, we also expect low-latency to become key design consideration for broadband networks. Increased symmetrical bandwidth demand is primarily driven by enterprise subscribers as well as home offices for video conferencing and VPN applications. These requirements have become even more outspoken during the pandemic as more devices got connected and bandwidth need increased.
Will fixed networks become obsolete with 5G or do you see a complementarity between the two networks?
Next-generation fixed broadband technologies and 5G have evolved separately in response to the growing bandwidth demand, yet they are increasingly interdependent. FTTH really is the gold standard – it delivers massive capacity at the lowest possible cost, its low power consumption makes it sustainable, and it will last – and evolve—for decades. If we want to provide a gigabit for everyone, then fiber is the technology of choice. When fiber and 5G join forces, that’s really when the magic happens. Fiber and 5G complement each other perfectly and accelerate gigabit connectivity to the benefit of all.
Mobile networks demand a high-performance mobile transport network. This requirement will become even more outspoken with the evolution to 5G, with mobile users expecting much higher speeds, low latency and universal coverage. Our GPON, XGS-PON and Point-to-Point technologies are already being used successfully for LTE and 5G mid-haul and backhaul by multiple operators in the MEA region. Our Software-Defined Access Network solution enables a set of unique use cases, like 5G slicing, as we have demonstrated with some of our key customers.
Fixed networks could help to overcome the challenge of high-speed 5G indoor coverage. In the home, consumers switch from the cellular network to Wi-Fi, offloading the 5G traffic to Wi-Fi and, further on, to FTTH. This helps CSPs better manage RAN capacity and costs, free 5G capacity for critical applications, and still provide an exceptional customer experience for consumers at home. For this, we have upgraded our solutions with superior Wi-Fi 6 capabilities, including low-latency technology.
How has the Fixed Networks helped manage the COVID-19 pandemic impact on networks in MEA?
There is no doubt that broadband has played a vital role during this crisis, ensuring that millions of households have been able to work, learn, and live at home during extended lockdowns. The main impact on the network includes a significant increase in traffic during lockdowns, going up to 30 to 40% overnight.
Going forward, since periodic lockdowns could be part of the new normal for the foreseeable future, we are working with our customers to make sure that broadband networks allow every household not just to work or play from home but also access vital e-health and e-learning services. Broadband has become a fundamental right to protect citizens and economies.