5G Trials Draw Near for Nokia and Qualcomm

Article By : Rick Merritt

Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on list of trial sites.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Nokia and Qualcomm completed a lab test of a 5G New Radio connection for ten carriers they hope will take their systems into field trials soon. The announcement is the latest step in a marathon toward commercial 5G services stretching this month from the Winter Olympics in South Korea to the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.

The duo showed a version of Nokia’s AirScale base station and a prototype Qualcomm handset making 5G NR links over 3.5 and 28 GHz bands at a Nokia lab in Oulu, Finland. The FPGA-based systems will provide the basis for field trials with operators this year including BT/EE, Deutsche Telekom, Elisa, KT, LGU+, NTT DOCOMO, Optus, SKT, Telia and Vodafone Group. The companies hope the trials lead to commercial deployments of a variety of 5G services next year in China, Europe, Korea, Japan and the United States.

Qualcomm and Nokia’s rival Ericsson staged a competing lab demo over the same bands just after the 5G NR spec was completed in December. Their partners included AT&T, NTT Docomo, Orange, SK Telecom, Verizon and Vodafone. The effort followed a test in late November  at a China Mobile lab using a prototype base station from China’s ZTE and a Qualcomm test handset.

Later this week, South Korea will showcase a pre-standard 5G network at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang using gear from Intel and Samsung. Later this month, the MWC event in Spain will be about, “5G going commercial — how to get the return on investment and put artificial intelligence into the networks,” said Phil Twist, an engineer now head of marketing for mobile networks at Nokia, speaking in a pre-MWC press briefing.

Nokia will show at MWC a version of its 5G ReefShark chip set for base stations. The company designed its AirScale base stations to support a ReefShark module that upgrades them from handling 28 Gbits/second of LTE traffic to 84 Gbits/s of 5G.

Multiple modules with the 10nm chip sets can work together to support throughput up to the 6 Tbit/s limit of the AirScale’s backplane. Nokia claims as many as 30 customers for ReefShark, some with deployment plans this year.

At the handset, vendors are expected to show devices supporting as many as 20 data streams using 4×4 MIMO antennas and up to five 20 MHz carriers. Such techniques will push advanced LTE and 5G beyond today’s gigabit LTE with mobile broadband services some carriers are interested in rolling out as early as this fall.

The push for speed could keep Qualcomm ahead of Intel, its rival in handset baseband chips. Intel announced in November plans to support CDMA and gigabit speeds in its 2018 cellular modems and up to 1.6 Gbit/s downlinks in 2019.

In the race to 5G, the new NR spec was “the one everyone was waiting for…we have a first version of one variant running and many more variants will come,” said Twist.

RF chips and backhaul options also will come in may flavors. For example, Nokia is developing base station radios using three carrier aggregation for high capacity as well as beam-forming radio heads for high bandwidth. In backhaul, it is designing microwave, IP and optical options.

With the 5G radio standard set, the next big agenda item is network slicing. A final standard for this version of virtualized radio is still in the works with the next big pieces due in June, Twist said.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times

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