Nokia lays groundwork for aggressive 5G push in SA

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Deon Geyser, head of Southern Africa and Vodafone Africa market unit at Nokia
Deon Geyser, head of Southern Africa and Vodafone Africa market unit at Nokia

Finnish telecommunications equipment maker Nokia is laying the groundwork to unlock new 5G opportunities in SA and the African continent.

This week the company announced 42 commercial 5G deals in place with operators around the world.

As the global 5G race hots up, yesterday, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei also revealed it has obtained 46 commercial 5G contracts so far in 30 countries globally.

Nokia used to be the world’s biggest cellphone brand, before selling its mobile phone business to Microsoft in 2013. Microsoft had the licence to use the Nokia name on its smartphones only until 2016. The Lumia 730/830/930 were the last Windows Phones with the Nokia brand.

Now, Nokia has sold its rights to HMD Global, a Finnish company manufacturing new devices running Android under the Nokia name.

Since the sale of the mobile business unit, Nokia has shifted its focus to selling high-end networking gear and software to telecoms companies and Internet service providers.

In an interview with ITWeb, Deon Geyser, head of Southern Africa and Vodafone Africa market unit at Nokia, said the company sees a lot of opportunity in the local 5G market.

He noted that Nokia has concluded a deal with South African data-only network provider, Rain. “That said, we have also signed an MOU with Vodacom and are in talks with several other operators across the African continent.”

In February, Rain also launched the first 5G commercial network in SA, in partnership with Huawei. Rain and Huawei made the announcement at Mobile World Congress 2019, in Barcelona.

“In addition, Nokia and Rain have agreed to collaborate on deploying the 5G network with Nokia’s end-to-end 5G solutions, including optical front-haul transport products and its fixed wireless access FastMile 5G Gateway.”

Nokia’s FastMile 5G Gateway is a home solution that brings high speeds to homes using 3GPP compliant 5G New Radio.

Since the AfricaCom 2017 conference, Nokia has had various 5G demos and showcases across the continent, Geyser said.

Industry engagement

Geyser added the company is also engaged with industry players and telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa on the 5G strategy for the country.

This year, Nokia hosted innovation days in SA with the minister of communications, as well as in Rwanda and Kenya, to showcase various 5G use cases.

“Digital transformation and the hurtling onset of 5G represent a significant inflection point for industry. The steps that took the industry from 2G to 3G to 4G were incremental, evolving alongside demand within legacy technology and capability,” Geyser said.

“Now, 5G introduces a fundamental shift that will do more than just change the digital landscape, but will introduce an incredible opportunity for the industry to embrace forward-looking growth and innovation.”

He noted Nokia, with its 5G portfolio, is well-positioned to bring 5G to Africa to unlock new opportunities and further the socioeconomic development of the continent.

According to Geyser, while there has been doubt about how quickly 5G will be adopted on the African continent due to legacy network infrastructure, local networks are already looking to commercialise their 5G in non-standalone architecture, and it has become evident that great 5G runs on top of great 4G.

“In non-standalone architecture, the 5G control information goes through the LTE eNodeBs and the throughput can tap the resources of 5G and 4G through dual connectivity. This means, if you have the best performing 4G network, you are already ahead of the game in 5G.”

Nokia sees two big opportunities for 5G in Africa: enterprise and fixed wireless access.

“To fully capitalise on 5G, a technology that offers enormous promise for the bold and the innovative, the industry has to re-architect the networks because new services won’t be about high or low bandwidth, but about latency,” Geyser noted.

“The future is about automation and ensuring that systems and solutions are ‘always-on’ and intelligent. And it is about providing industrial spaces and enterprises with the ability to ensure that machines respond dynamically to human behaviour.”

A second key use case in Africa and SA will be fixed wireless access due to the cost and time to deploy FTTx.

“5G would be able to offer fibre-like wireless services with the low latency and high speed and capacity benefits.”

Improving human lives

Geyser said Nokia has already showcased several use cases, using 5G to improve human lives. In education, for example, Nokia has developed a solution that creates an immersive education experience for learners with limited access to supplies and textbooks, he noted.

“Children can access remote and enhanced teacher training using online tools and platforms. They can catch up when they are absent; they can access education on demand; and they aren’t left behind those in the cities as a result of limited textbooks.”

He added that virtual reality can be used to train teachers and students, and can enhance the learning experience with visually immersive aids that shift how children engage with learning materials.

Another ongoing issue is conservation, Geyser said, adding that poaching remains an ever-present threat, affecting rhinos, elephants, lions and pangolins.

“It is decimating species and putting incredible strain on resources and government. What could be used to mitigate the impact of poaching is high-definition 360-degree cameras with no blind spots and the ability to use pattern recognition, AI and facial recognition to alert users to any abnormalities.

“This can then be combined with tracking software to monitor the movement of intruders, only streaming video and data when specific anomalies are detected. This type of solution can be further extended into protecting communities where there are high incidences of crime.”

In agriculture, he noted, 5G plays a role in enabling the Internet of things to solve key challenges faced by farmers on the continent.

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