Nokia CTO Nishant Batra dishes on 6G, disaggregation and role of 3GPP

What do Igal Elbaz, SVP, Network CTO at AT&T, and Nishant Batra, chief strategy and technology officer at Nokia, discuss when they get together?

Elbaz revealed during his keynote at the Brooklyn 6G Summit that they had a “lively discussion” Monday evening about the transition to the cloud and the kind of tools that are needed to get there. Both were presenting at the summit on Tuesday morning.

Pressed for details on the sidelines of the summit, Batra said they talked about how the industry needs to re-skill itself for cloudification.

The single largest issue is that “we don’t have the skills in the industry,” whether it be on the vendor side or the operator side. “I think every industry at the moment is trying to grab those people who come from a cloud-native starting point,” he said.

Therefore, it’s fitting that Nokia is a partner of the Brooklyn 6G Summit with NYU Wireless that takes place at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. The event offers a “great connection into one of the best universities in the country” and “it helps us build a bridge to some of the upcoming stars,” he said.

Open RAN and 6G

One of the reasons a group of entities got together to develop open Radio Access Network (open RAN) specifications was to create less reliance on big vendors like Nokia and Ericsson. Skeptics remain as to how committed Nokia is to the open RAN ecosystem, although that could be changing.

Batra told Fierce that open RAN came into existence because the standards weren’t moving fast enough for disaggregation in the previous generations. A certain set of operators – AT&T being one of them – decided to create the Open RAN Alliance in 2018.

“My belief is that 6G, from an architectural standpoint, will be designed, bottom up, disaggregated,” he said.

The Open RAN Summit @Fyuz, a conference of the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), is taking place this week in Madrid, Spain. In 2020, the O-RAN Alliance and TIP announced a liaison agreement to ensure their areas of focus are aligned.

The question then arises: Who leads the standards for 6G? 3GPP has been in charge of contributing to wireless protocols and procedures for a number of years, but these other groups also are leading efforts as well.

Batra said his preference would be for 3GPP to lead the effort because it’s easier to create one standard rather than make sure that two can co-exist.

This is how Batra positioned it. “Where does 5G come from? Does it come from TIP? Does it come from Open RAN Alliance? Where did 4G come from? 3GPP. Where did 3G come from? 3GPP. I think you sort of get the point I’m making,” he said.

In a way, he said, the organization that started TIP has morphed itself. TIP was created by Facebook when they wanted to cover the entire world with connectivity, and then Facebook later became Meta. Now Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp are all owned by the same company, and they’re not interoperable. That’s just the consumer metaverse, he noted, suggesting that it’s a sorry state of affairs.

Not one metaverse

During his Brooklyn 6G Summit keynote, Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark talked a lot about the metaverse, and he stressed that no one company can create all the elements required to build it. Collaboration is required to collectively solve all the big global challenges like climate change and equal access to healthcare and education for everyone, he said.

Lundmark also said it’s extremely important that 6G standards don’t get fragmented. That has been a key reason 5G has been a success; there are global standards, which should lead to reduced costs for everyone. A similar model is required for 6G, he said.

Yet he cautioned that there’s a danger that has to do with the geopolitical environment right now. It’s quite likely that “we will see more government intervention,” he said, and from an interoperability point of view, “we need to be careful with that because, again, we should not let standards get fragmented.”

In his interview with Fierce, Batra remarked that the reason 3G failed had to do with the fact that there were three different standards bandied about. CDMA became EV-DO, GSM became Wideband CDMA and China started its own technology called TD-SCDMA. China’s home-brewed technology eventually died off.

But Batra said he’s less worried about standards fragmentation today because he sees a lot of zeal toward ensuring there’s a common standard, even though there are geopolitical wars going on.

No room for geopolitics 

He reiterated that he is of the belief that geopolitics should play no role in the wireless standards-setting process, a philosophy that ETSI espoused back in 2019. However, a lot has changed since then.

The good thing about 3GPP is it’s an engineering-led organization, Batra said. Sure, there are protocols that are practiced to maintain order, but it’s no place for politicians. “If you prove your physics to be adequate, your submission will be accepted,” and that’s generally the rule there, he said.

“I believe 3GPP will stick around and will make sure 6G comes out as a unified standard,” he said. “There’s risk to it, but less so than a year ago. I see more inclusive involvement.”The industry collectively is eyeing 2030 as the year when 6G goes commercial, and between now and then, industry stakeholders will meet to decide what specifically goes into 6G.

Nokia is a founding member of the Next G Alliance and it recently was named to lead the Hexa-X-II project, the second phase of the European 6G flagship initiative designed to lay the groundwork for 6G standardization.

Nokia drew flak for not being as quick out of the 5G gates as it should have been. Batra said that’s not going to happen with 6G.  "We will start leading, starting with 5G Advanced,” and “we will enter 6G as leaders. That is our promise,” he said.