Nokia touts more than 120 private LTE network deployments

Nokia is seeing momentum for private networks in its new Enterprise Business Group, and now counts more than 120 private wireless LTE network deployments globally across a variety of vertical industries.

First announced in 2018 and formalized at the start of 2019, Nokia’s distinct enterprise unit has seen a “good ramp up” this year in private LTE network enterprise customers, according to Nokia’s Senior Director of Enterprise Marketing Houman Modarres.

He noted the Finnish vendor is seeing fairly rapid adoption and initial uptake in industry segments where it’s historically had success with enterprise customers, such as utilities in North America, and transportation in Europe, while gaining credibility in areas like mining. For its next enterprise targets, Nokia’s focusing on the aviation and manufacturing segments. The aim is to provide seamless site connectivity and visual automation that is particularly important for asset-intensive industries, according to Modarres.

Specifically, Nokia said it has stood up 35 private LTE networks for customers in the energy industry, 32 in the public sector and smart cities, 24 in transportation, 11 in manufacturing and logistics and more than 18 in other industries.

Nokia sees a massive opportunity for private networks, with Modarres noting there are about 7 million global macro base stations delivering connectivity today, but still 14 million global industrial sites that stand to be connected, according to Harbor Research. ABI Research forecasts the private wireless networking market opportunity will hit $16.3 billion by 2025.

While much attention has been paid to potential benefits of 5G private networks for enterprise, particularly around technologies like network slicing, Modarres said enterprise customers are starting deployments with what’s available now, and indicated there is still a lot of gas in the LTE-Advanced tank.

“[Enterprise customers] can start now with LTE-Advanced, 4.9G, which is already a big step forward from the LTE that they may already be initially familiar with,” he said. “Then that puts them I the best position to benefit from additional use cases from 5G when that ecosystem takes shape.”

Nokia is certainly still focused on 5G, but LTE-A (what Nokia dubs 4.9G) can already handle machine communications that need latency below 10 milliseconds and deliver "three-to-five nines" reliability. “LTE has grown up,” he said, adding that it enables business outcomes like efficiency, or grid automation and monitoring for utilities are possible.

When it comes to the devices, the industrial LTE ecosystem is already mature, as Modarres noted there are some 2,500 industrial end points for LTE. That figure represents non-phone form factor devices, such as LTE-connected machines for example, or connected vests that can gauge biometric data for worker health and safety. 

Nokia is working with partners now on 5G, but still needs 3GPP specifications to be completed before industrial firms can start to build 5G endpoints for many of the verticals it's chasing.

Expanding private LTE portfolio

In conjunction with the growing private LTE network interest and customer announcement, Nokia is expanding its portfolio to include more endpoints, additional variants of radio that cover more spectrum, more comprehensive backhaul transport options, and services. He noted some vendors just offer radios, but said it’s really going to take end points, such as improvements Nokia’s made to an already-shipping ruggedized IP MPLS router with LTE uplinks that could be used for utilities.  

“Utilities can put those on light poles, and essentially be able to provide seamless connectivity across their footprint, to the radios, to the backhaul, to the core and to the advanced surface like high-accuracy indoor positioning.”

The portfolio upgrades are meant to expand the ease of use and reach for enterprises wanting to recognize efficiency gains now with private LTE, and to widen Nokia’s customer pool across more segments and in locations where additional spectrum is becoming available.

In Japan, for example, the government is releasing 5G spectrum at the end of 2019 for use by individual companies and local governments (known in the country as local 5G). Nokia just announced it’s working with Hitachi Kokusai Electric to deliver local 5G and private LTE solutions, including the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud platform to offer secure connectivity and enable capabilities like video analytics, AI, and IoT use cases for factories, airports and ports once spectrum becomes available.

In the U.S., Nokia is working with Spectrum Access System (SAS) administrators on initial commercial deployments (ICD) using CBRS spectrum that’s already available for General Authorized Access (GAA) users, with a licensed portion to be auctioned next June.

As for its private LTE momentum, Nokia’s top regions for network deployment are currently Europe (37%) and North America (27%).

“When it comes to mission critical networks, private wireless is just the new modality that’s really picking up speed,” he said. “When you want to be nimble wires get in the way.”

The vendor also offers a range of deployment models, whether customers want plug-and-play solutions, or require more customization in places like a factory setting.

Still with a large undertaking, Modarres said the vendor continues to grow its ecosystem by working with partners, and not just traditional service providers, but cloud providers, industrial ecosystem and system integrators as well. Earlier this month Nokia announced integration of its private wireless solution with Microsoft Azure IoT.

Nokia has been a major equipment supplier in early commercial 5G networks from operators like AT&T, Verizon and Nokia, but sees private industrial networks using 5G as the “next” while private LTE represents the “now.”

“It will be a long time before 2,000 industrial devices support 5G,” Modarres noted. While he said a transition will eventually happen once the ecosystem develops to support 5G features needed for critical machine communications and extreme mobile broadband, “a lot of the applications that exist today and will go into the future, there is sufficiency with 4.9G.”