Nokia targets 4G customers with 5G upgrade software

Nokia is targeting 4G customers with a new software upgrade that can transition its existing LTE radios to 5G NR without the need for a site visit.

The features are meant to help make it easier to shift to 5G using refarmed 4G spectrum for customers that have installed Nokia’s LTE Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) RF units. The Finland-based telecom vendor said it has 359 customers with those radios deployed, most of which can be upgraded to 5G with the software update. The software supports about 1 million radios from the start, Nokia claims. That figure grows to 3.1 million by the end of the year and more than 5 million in 2021.

With 5G capability through a software upgrade, mobile operators wouldn’t have to spend money and time on new visits to existing sites, Nokia noted.

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The vendor estimates that it “will save the telecommunications industry potentially tens of billions of euros in site engineering and re-visit costs as communication service providers are able to upgrade their networks to 5G/NR on FDD with software.”

Nokia looks to be eyeing the next round of network upgrades and buildouts as it vies against rivals Ericsson, Huawei, and in some markets Samsung.

In its press release the vendor said, “the next big wave of 5G /NR rollouts will be delivered by refarming existing FDD bands to 5G/NR,” compared to many early mid- and high-band 5G deployments with time division duplex (TDD).  

Nokia called out its dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) software, which was introduced for 4G/5G earlier this year, with volume shipments this month. Nokia also offers dynamic sharing between 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies.

Dynamic spectrum sharing is expected to play a key roll for carriers that want to deploy broader 5G coverage using low-band spectrum, including Verizon and AT&T in the U.S. Verizon completed DSS trials using low-band spectrum with Nokia and Ericsson in June, while AT&T commercially deployed DSS in parts of Texas and Florida. Ericsson was first on the scene with a commercial DSS product and has been deployed in live networks. 

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“We already provide market- leading LTE radios to hundreds of customers around the world. This is an important solution because it will help our customers, quickly and efficiently upgrade their existing LTE radios so that they are 5G ready saving them time and money,” said Tommi Uitto, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia, in a statement.

It has been a bit of a challenging stretch for Nokia, including issues with its 5G chipset in 2019. Longtime CEO Rajeev Suri is stepping down, with Pekka Lundmark taking the helm in August. 

Nokia batted back reports this month that it could potentially lose out on a lucrative 5G contract with Verizon, declining to comment on rumors.

As it works to attract and maintain customers with the next round of upgrades, Nokia’s recently introduced a virtualized cloud-based 5G RAN solution and committed to a full suite of O-RAN defined interfaces for its existing AirScale RAN portfolio.  

When it comes to software upgrades, Ericsson has been able to upgrade its existing radios and basebands from the Ericsson Radio System to 5G NR via remote software upgrade since December 2019, including base units delivered since 2015. Last December is when Ericsson released its 5G NR software for FDD bands (ie: low bands). Prior to that the Swedish vendor's 5G NR software was only available in mid- and high-bands.

In total, Ericsson has shipped more than 5 million 5G-ready (hardware) radios to customers since 2015, which currently marks the most installed 5G-ready radios in the industry, according to a company spokesperson. 

Updated with information about Ericsson's 5G radios and software.