LAS VEGAS – The leap to 5G has everyone excited, but failure to prepare with incremental LTE network improvements could create a 5G cliff, Nokia executives said Thursday morning.

According to Nokia’s Vice President of Mobile Networks Marketing Phil Twist, Head of Technology for North America Michael Murphy and Executive Vice President of the North American Market Ricky Corker, the roll out of 5G will be different from previous network upgrades in that it will represent a complement to 4G networks rather than a replacement. This means 5G will initially be deployed select areas where there is a demand for it instead of launching nationwide from the start, Twist said. 

But while 5G roll outs will vastly improve network experience in the areas covered, they will also create the risk of a drop off in services and experience when exiting the 5G coverage areas if operators don’t upgrade their 4G networks.

“5G will be built where there are specific use cases for it in the early days,” Twist said. “We need an LTE network that when you go from 5G radio implementation to outside you don’t fall off a cliff. So if we’ve got 10 gbps in the early 5G implementations, having something which is close to that in the rest of the network means that you can offer ubiquitous services across the network. This service continuity is one of the key elements.”

To help bridge the gap, Nokia last week announced a set of network upgrades – dubbed 4.5G Pro and 4.9G – to help increase speed and capacity. 

Nokia said its 4.5G Pro technology, slated for availability in the fourth quarter of this year, will offer up to five carrier aggregation, peak speeds of up to 1 gbps and latency of around 10 milliseconds. The company’s 4.9G technology, which will become available in the fourth quarter 2017, will build on that foundation to offer six-channel or more carrier aggregation on licensed and unlicensed bands, peak speeds “well above” 1 gbps and latency below 10 milliseconds.

Twist said the driver for adoption of 4.5G Pro and 4.9G will be having the traffic requirements to use it and the chipsets in the devices to enable it to happen. Nokia has built 4.5G Pro to be compatible with the device chipsets it understands are coming to market in 2017, meaning the technology will be viable for customers, Twist said.
Huawei has also pushed the idea of an in-between 4.5G technology that will increase capacity and efficiency. Where Huawei’s version of 4.5G is based on 3GPP’s LTE-Advanced Pro specifications, Twist said Nokia’s 4.9G technology will be in line with 3GPP’s forthcoming LTE-Advanced Pro 2 specifications due out as part of Release 14 in March 2017.

But Nokia executives said operators won’t just be able to slap 4.9G in the radio and call it a day; the upgrade will require modifications to the core of the network as well.

“To make what we would call a 4.9G network, you need to have done the modifications to the core side as well, otherwise you can’t achieve the latency,” Twist said. “We’re aiming 4.9G as a network solution which incorporates the ability to use cloud RAN, use edge computing, have centralized core elements for some of the non-real time and control plane stuff, but the user plane stuff needs to be distributed out towards the edge. So there are some architecture changes in networks that need to happen in order for the specifications we’re talking about.”