Nokia CEO: U.S., China lead 5G race, but U.S. needs to make midband spectrum available

BARCELONA, Spain—The U.S. and China are leading the race to 5G, but the U.S. needs to get more aggressive when it comes to spectrum, according to Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri.

“It’s a neck-and-neck race between the U.S. and China to see who will be first to deploy," Suri said on the eve of the Mobile World Congress 2018 trade show.

While it’s very hard at this point to say who will be first, he said he could say two things with confidence. The first is that the U.S. needs to be more aggressive on spectrum and make 100 megahertz available per operator in the mid bands—particularly in the 3 to 4 GHz range—in order to complement the low and high bands that are already available. “This should be an urgent priority for policy makers in the U.S.,” he said.

The second thing is both China and the U.S. will move fast, they will be big and they will be well ahead of pretty much every other part of the world. Beyond that, Japan and South Korea also will be fast movers; Japan has a clear eye on making 5G ready for the 2020 Olympics, and Nokia is there working with NTT DoCoMo. In South Korea, Nokia is working with Korea Telecom with a focus on immersive experiences at large sporting events, among other things.

Clearly, Suri is disappointed that Europe is not leading; Nokia’s home base is Finland, and even though it has always been on the cutting edge of technology in the mobile industry, the country is not leading the race to 5G.

Part of the problem in Europe, according to Suri, is there are too many operators; plus, the average revenue per user is far lower than the U.S. or Japan. There will be 5G in Europe—there’s no doubt about that—it’s just mostly lagging. Consolidation is needed among operators, for one thing, he said.

Suri ticked through the 5G work Nokia is doing with carriers around the world and in the U.S.—he specifically called out Verizon and T-Mobile. With Verizon, Nokia has a lot of activity underway and recently celebrated the first 5G call based on the 3GPP standards. The 4K video call used Nokia 5G network technology and a 5G NR prototype device provided by Qualcomm Technologies on Verizon’s licensed 28 GHz spectrum. 

RELATED: Verizon boasts first 5G call using 3GPP-based standards

With T-Mobile, Nokia’s partnership includes deployment on 600 MHz and Nokia was involved in a 5G data session using 28 GHz on a commercial radio system in the busy downtown corridor of Bellevue, Washington. Separately, Nokia and T-Mobile recently reported progress on the LAA front after they had achieved download speeds of 1.3 Gbps using Nokia’s commercial AirScale platform to support 14-layer transmissions.   

RELATED: T-Mobile achieves 1.3 Gbps speeds with Nokia using LAA

During a media question-and-answer session, when asked to comment on the status of its work with AT&T, Suri declined to reveal any specifics but said the vendor is working with all the big and some of the smaller operators in the U.S.

Nokia also just inked an agreement with China Mobile. And Suri said Nokia would release early this week more information about a special project with Vodafone, which will be “out of this world,” literally, he said.

He was also asked to comment on how ZTE and Huawei have been effectively banned from the U.S. market by a government worried about Chinese spying, and whether that gives Nokia and fellow European vendor Ericsson an unfair advantage. “Not really,” he said, noting Samsung is also a player in the U.S. “This is a competitive industry, period. There’s no easy market.” Huawei and ZTE have denied their equipment could be used for espionage.

All in all, while other things are going on besides 5G, Suri's message was clear: 5G is coming faster than the industry expected even eight months ago and Nokia expects to be there in a big way.