Nokia has been very active as of late in gradually implementing and further developing the most advanced network technologies. An example is last week’s announcement of network slicing functions for existing 4G LTE networks in combination with 5G networks. Network slicing is the possibility to segregate segments of a wireless band for very different uses cases, which was considered a feature of just 5G networks. Austrian operator A1 and Finnish operator Telia plan to implement the solution by mid-year. It not only gives carriers the opportunity to create new services, but also spurs business end users to think about new uses for the cloud.
I sat down with Massimo Mazzocchini, CEO of Nokia Italy, for an update on the rollout of 5G networks.
Many operators in Europe and in Italy especially need to recoup substantial investments they made for 5G spectrum. Which are their main challenges this time?
The first challenge is to have an end-to-end approach, because this is not just about the radio (the part of the network that connects to devices, EN), but about the whole network: the radio access, the transport, the core. This is the challenge in the market, and not just for Italian operators but globally.
There are no particular challenges as to the technology, but having an end-to-end network is the real big advantage for operators. Nokia is likely the vendor best positioned to supply this kind of network.
What is important is that operators find ways to make the most of the new technology’s potential for new applications, new services and new ways, which need to be completely different from the ones in the past, of interacting with all industries. Investment is needed here, of course.
The challenge for operators now is to draw value from new networks. In this we support them first, by collaborating with them in developing new applications and services that they can offer to their customers, and second, on the network automation side for their network operations to be more efficient and for them to bring new services to the market faster.
Where are the most interesting or complex requests for new applications or services coming from? Operators, industrial settings, specific industries wanting to transfer industrial applications onto the network?
The point to understand here is that to get the most value, the right ecosystem needs to be in place. We are working directly or through the operators with many companies in this direction. We are also overhauling our own factories.
A really interesting case is our factory in Oulu, Finland, where we automated the full production thanks to the 5G coverage. As the factory manager explained to me, when production lines were all wired, if you changed even a very small part in a line, it took an amount of time, often weeks, to get it ready and back on again. Now with 5G you can modify any part of the line and have it operational in much less time, because you don’t need to redo all the wiring.
This is the real value from an industrial point of view that we provide directly or through our partner operators.
We are also working on very interesting projects in logistics. One is the Port of Hamburg, for which we have also won prizes with our partner Deutsche Telekom. We tested there three different applications in a real environment, including the transmission of environmental and position data, the management of traffic lights and the transmission of 3D data to an augmented reality (AR) application. Our extensive collaboration with over 120 customers in this industry has global reach, and addresses the immediate needs of several industries and sectors, including but not only administrations and smart cities, transportation, energy, manufacturing and logistics.
Of course, 5G will also bring benefits to the consumer, but it is the industrial production and settings that will benefit most substantially.
To better understand the pace of the rollout can you expand on the actors involved when it comes to deciding on critical network infrastructures or on important areas’ ones, such as ports—the port of Hamburg—airports, energy hubs…? Are we talking operators, authorities, other government bodies, vendors…?
Companies, operators and governments are all involved in the decision making process for the implementation of these types of networks, for which we have all the technology needed, even for large sites, and we are already building up across countries in the world. In general, operators interact with governments, while we often get called by authorities and governments as consultants.
And what about the rate of adoption in the regions of the world and in Italy?
Nokia is the only vendor whose 5G technology has been adopted by all four national operators in the US, all three operators in South Korea and all three national operators in Japan. In Europe, we are experiencing some delays due to the fragmentation and partly also to regulatory issues. You cannot build a 5G network without making the spectrum available.
Italy moved faster than average in Europe. Firstly, because the frequencies were assigned earlier than in other countries, a fundamental first step, and also because the Ministry for Economic Development planned trials that gave us the opportunity to start working already in 2018, like the one with Vodafone in Milan, with TIM in San Marino—the first country with a 99% 5G coverage…
How do you Nokia and your partner operators see Italy in terms of talent for network research and management?
The environment in Italy is very good, in my view, both as to average education and as skilled technical staff and engineers that operators and vendors employ.
In 2018, we approved an investment to build in Italy an important hub for data analytics research. This center in Vimercate is one of the three centers that we are setting up globally. In Vimercate (northern Italy, close to Milan) R&D focuses on three fields: optical transport, microwaves (for the back-haul of the networks) and data analytics. In the latter area, an important part of all research is the collection of data that networks provide. On the one hand, these data can be used for commercial purposes, in the case of companies or operators, but also sent back to the management section of the network and be used by the network in an automated process to improve its efficiency and productivity.
Being that antennas for 5G networks need be denser, s is understandable that there is resistance within the public. Where do you start?
In Italy we have a very restrictive regulation regarding electromagnetic emissions (EME), but we have a complete antennas portfolio, and this allows us to guarantee coverage even in this kind of regulatory framework. The debate about the impact of this new technology is important and is ongoing among legislators and operators not just in Italy, but across the world.
* In Europe, Italy and Bulgaria set the limit for EME at 6V/m, far more stringent than the 41V/m the EU recommends a non-bindingly way and adopted as the maximum limit by the vast majority of EU countries. Other European countries (the United Kingdom, for example) and in the rest of the world adopted EME limits ranging between 41 and 58V/m.