Nokia gets a bunch more cash from Chinese operators

Nokia is so keen for everyone to know how well it’s doing in China that is it makes an announcement every time it wins some business.

Earlier this year we heard all about a ‘framework agreement’ signed with China mobile that was worth around €1 billion. Today Nokia has announced some more ‘frame agreements’, which are presumably the same thing and refer to a kind of pre-contract that amounts to a formal commitment to do a bunch of business in future.

This time we’re talking €2 billion, but split between all three Chinese MNOs – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. Presumably the China Mobile bit is fresh cash, not just a recycling of the previous bil. The agreements cover delivery for the next year or so of radio, fixed access, IP routing and optical transport equipment, as well as some SDN and NFV goodness. Nokia is excited by all this transitioning and leveraging.

“We are excited to continue our close collaboration with these important customers in China, to drive new levels of network performance as they transition toward 5G,” said Mike Wang, president of Nokia Shanghai Bell. “Leveraging the breadth of our end-to-end network and services capabilities, we will work closely with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom to deploy technologies that meet their specific business needs.”

It wouldn’t be surprising to see some kind of equivalent announcement by Ericsson before long as the two Nordic kit vendors clearly like to compete over this sort of thing. Not long after its first China Mobile announcement Nokia said it was getting £3.5 billion from T-Mobile US to help out with 5G. Within a few weeks Ericsson had countered with an almost identical announcement of its own.

Nokia launches some actual applications for SDN

All the hype surrounding software-defined networking is finally starting to yield some tangible results in the form of three apps from Nokia.

Deciding to kill two buzzwords with one stone, Nokia is claiming its new WaveSuite open applications will jump-start optical network digital transformation. It consists of three apps: Service Enablement, Node Automation and Network Insight. The point of these apps is apparently to offer businesses a new degree of access to networks that is expected to yield novel commercial opportunities.

To help us get our heads around this new piece of networking arcana we spoke to Kyle Hollasch, Director of Marketing for Optical Networking at Nokia. He was most keen to focus on the service enablement app, which he said is “the first software that tackles the issue of resell hierarchy.”

Specifically we’re talking about the reselling of fixed line capacity. This app is designed to massively speed up the capacity reselling process, with the aim of turning it into a billable service. The slide below visualises the concept, in which we have the actual network owner at the base and then several levels of capacity reselling, allowing greater degrees of specialisation and use-case specific solutions.

Nokia WaveSuite slide 1

The node automation app allows network nodes to be controlled via an app on a smartphone, thanks to the magic of SDN. In fact this would appear to be the epitome of SDN as it’s only made possible by that technology. The slide below shows how is it is, at least in theory, possible to interact with a network element via a smartphone, which also opens up the ability to use other smartphone tools such as the GPS and camera.

Nokia WaveSuite slide 2

The network insight app seems to do what is says on the tin, so there doesn’t seem to be the need for further explanation at this stage. “These innovations are the result of years of working closely with our customers to address all aspects of optical networking with open applications enhancing not just operations, but opening up new services and business models,” said Sam Bucci, Head of Optical Networks for Nokia.

As a milestone in the process of virtualizing networks and all the great stuff that’s supposed to come with that, the launch of actual SDN apps seems significant. Whether or not the market agrees and makes tangible business use of these is another matter, however, and only time will tell if good PowerPoint translates into business reality.

FWA could help inform operators of fibre rollout priorities – Nokia

While some are still sceptical of the longevity and performance characteristics of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) as a usecase for 5G, Nokia thinks it could serve a very useful purpose for fibre rollout plans.

Although the case for fibre has been built and justified, forecasting where demand will actually be is still a tricky task. For every correct prediction analysts and forecasters make, we suspect there will be dozens of forgotten failed ones. But Stefaan Vanhastel, Head of Fixed Networks Marketing at Nokia, thinks there could be useful benefits from FWA in making economical and efficient fibre rollout plans.

Here is Vanhastel’s theory. Offering a gigabit FWA service to customers will meet the demands of tomorrow, and offer a bit of breathing room from those who demanding full-fibre connectivity. Monitoring the data consumption of customers who have taken up the service could indicate where the greediest users are, and therefore the greatest potential for strain on the network and bottlenecks. Once these areas have been identified, they can be the first to receive the full-fibre connectivity diet.

Although fibre is the perfect solution for our connectivity cravings at home and work, upgrading current infrastructure is not going to happen overnight. It is an incredibly expensive process, time consuming and fibre is a product which is in high-demand. The reality of fibre connectivity is that it will be a gradual rollout throughout the network. Connecting small cells with fibre is a tough enough ask, but the last-mile is where telcos will struggle the most. 5G FWA might offer a temporary solution, while also providing valuable insight to the areas which need full-fibre the most.

Of course, it’s always worth bearing mind Nokia has something to gain out increased FWA interest, though it is not the worst idea we have ever heard.

Nokia gives thumbs up for Q3 but warns of further ‘cost efficiencies’

Nokia has released its financial results for the last three months, which look pretty positive, though job losses have put a slight dampener on the party.

Net sales for the last three months stood at €5.4 billion, slightly down on the same period in 2017, though when currency fluctuations are taken into account, it does seem Nokia is navigating the sluggish telco industry fairly effectively. The management team promised an improved performance towards the end of the year, and it seems to be delivering on this prediction. Operating losses have been narrowed and profit margin is heading in the right direction.

“Nokia’s third-quarter results validate our earlier view that conditions would improve in the second half of 2018,” said CEO Rajeev Suri. “This was particularly evident in our excellent momentum in orders, growth across all five of our Networks business groups, and improved profitability compared to the first half of the year. Despite some risks related to short-term delays in project timing and product deliveries, we remain on track to deliver on our full-year guidance.”

While the results are not revolutionary, this is the telco industry we are talking about. The industry has been lulling between 4G and 5G investment cycles, though with new 5G contracts announced during the quarter the tide might be turning.

“We see the industry improving and accelerating and saw evidence of this in the quarter,” said CFO Kristian Pullola. “Orders growth has driven by the first 5G bookings and all five networks business groups, particularly helped by strong demand in North America and Nokia software.”

These are positive signs, though the emergence of another ‘cost efficiency’ strategy does take away some of the glimmer. Pullola highlighted there are requirements to ensure the business is as lean and efficient as you would expect, though the details are thin.

“We’ve identified the bigger buckets to go after the savings to meet the €700 million target, but now it’s about taking it into the field and honing into the specifics,” said Pullola.

Part of this strategy will focus on the Alcatel Lucent acquisition, realising the benefits of scaled buying power by overhauling the procurement process and harmonizing the two businesses, though job losses are unavoidable. The team is not putting a number next to this aspect of the strategy, though there are reports it will be in the thousands.

This of course is only the latest installment of cost-saving strategies from the business, with a previous edition aiming for €1.2 billion in cost-saving by the end of 2018. With an additional iteration of this plan, some might come to the conclusion pervious schemes have failed in delivering the desired impact on profitability and operations.

That said, investors don’t seem to be spooked by the news with only a minor downturn in share price. Nokia has reaffirmed it is still on course to meet full-year guidance and has done a pretty good job of communicating the difficulties in the industry to investors; expectations do seem to have been managed effectively.

FWA success is about deployment without engineers – Nokia

The 5G euphoria might have reignited excitement for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) but Nokia doesn’t think we need to wait that long.

The FWA portfolio from Nokia isn’t new, here we’re talking about enhancements to products and solutions which are designed for 4G connectivity. What is worth bragging about is the simplicity of the portfolio, something which Nokia’s Head of Fixed Networks Marketing Stefaan Vanhastel thinks is critical for adoption.

“Fixed wireless access is all about ease of deployment, so need to make it is as easy as possible,” said Vanhastel. “We don’t want to send out engineers for every customer, but make the products all about deployability. Each of the announcement make by themselves are relatively minor, but when you bring everything together suddenly you have an offering which is appealing.”

FWA might be primarily a 5G conversation, though there is no reason the technology cannot be run over 4G networks. With 4G networks peak residential speeds beyond 100 Mbps are possible but not always achievable, though Nokia will be launching new antennas which it claims can improve performance. Nokia FastMile can help improve spectral efficiency by 4-5x, resulting in faster connections for residential users, more consistent performance at the cell edge and lower RAN costs. It starts to make 4G FWA a more viable proposition.

Another area of the portfolio which has received a power-up are the indoor gateways. Nokia is introducing new products which include high-gain antennas and 4X4 MIMO to increase performance. Some models are also claimed to be 5G upgradable. However, the most important point is ease of deployment; it is simply a plug-in device.

This for Vanhastel is one of the most important aspects of FWA. The usecase not only has to be built for the telcos, though this is a simple one with the cost of laying fibre, but also for the users. FWA is likely to be a considerable change for some customers, many of whom will know the pros and cons of mobile connectivity and coverage. Simplicity and ease of deployment will certainly come as an advantage over waiting for a couple of weeks for an engineer to show up.

Realistically most broadband connections across the UK do not reach the speeds which Nokia will suggest is capable over a 4G-FWA offering, but the task will be to convince telcos and users of the reliability of the offering. Should reliability be proven, it poses an interesting question; why should we have to wait for 5G when FWA is theoretically possible over 4G networks?

Nokia plugs openness ahead of Broadband World Forum

Open is one of 2018’s buzzwords and Nokia is cashing in on the bonanza ahead of Broadband World Forum in a couple of weeks.

This is only the first of several announcements from the Finns, but it builds on the fibre connectivity and virtualisation foundations set last year. The first installment is focused on fixed access network slicing and multi-vendor optical network units (ONU).

Starting with the network slicing piece, the team plan to launch a fully open and programmable network slicing solution for fixed access networks. While the buzz for network slicing has been primarily focused on the mobile side of telecommunications, Nokia’s Head of Fixed Networks Marketing Stefaan Vanhastel told the solution can be just as effective in fixed access.

“Yes network slicing is a hot topic for 5G, but we are now starting to see the benefit for slicing in a fixed network,” said Vanhastel. “Operators can use residential network for 5G transport – why not, you already have a network and can save up to 50% of deployment costs. Why not use the same infrastructure for residential broadband, enterprise customers and 5G transport.”

In the same way network slicing can be used to create several virtual networks in the wireless business, why not do it in fixed access? Not only does it allow telcos to more efficiently plan for the world of 5G transport, while simultaneously serving a variety of customers, it opens up a host of new deployment models.

Vanhastel highlighted there are several non-traditional players building their own networks, individual cities or national governments for example, though these are not the people you would want running telco services. Local authorities have plenty of experience from a civil engineering perspective, digging the trenches and deploying the networks, but with network slicing capabilities several virtual networks can be created to bring-in the right expertise to deliver the services.

This is one idea which will aid the deployment of future proof networks, though network slicing could also help co-operative efforts and co-investment from competitors. The physical deployment of the network can be shared between any number of telcos, with each then claiming their own ‘slice’ which can be managed and configured independently. Openness and collaboration seems like a nice idea, though few competitors can play nice unfailingly, but with network slicing they only have to for a set period of time (in theory) before turning their attention to their own business.

Secondly, Nokia has launched Multivendor ONU connect, which it claims is the first fully open, virtualised solution that allows telcos to connect any optical network unit (ONU). The solution takes a ‘driver’ approach to how telcos deploy and manage ONUs, allowing for ‘plug and play’ functionality. As part of Nokia’s Altiplano open programmable framework, software is decoupled to allow the ONU management to be virtualised. An open-API framework allows third-party stacks to be on-boarded in a more time-efficient manner.

The approach will offer telcos the opportunity to realise the benefits of interoperability, connecting any modem to an access platform and potentially removing the painstaking task of integration. Vanhastel said that once the whole management infrastructure is virtualized, it would be possible to connect any fibre modem to access networks without the hassle, while updates or new ONUs can be quickly introduced through software upgrades.

Broadband World Forum might still be a couple of weeks away, but the Nokia marketing message is clear; simplicity and openness.

Nuage updates SD-WAN proposition to tackle multi-cloud complexities

With enterprise IT environments becoming increasingly complex, Nokia’s Nuage Networks has updated its SD-WAN proposition to capitalise on the confusion.

The SD-WAN 2.0 offering is claimed to be an end-to-end network governance solution to manage multi-cloud environments, with complete visibility and control from a single management interface. Nuage Networks Virtualized Network Services (VNS) platform is promised to help customers deliver and orchestrate enterprise IT services across data centres, public cloud services, SaaS provider clouds and enterprise branch sites.

“The industry is on the cusp of a big shift towards SD-WAN,” said Sunil Khandekar, CEO of Nuage Networks. “Unlike other vendors that either have basic connectivity solutions, use proprietary hardware or need to cobble together multiple platforms to address enterprise IT needs, we purposefully developed our VNS offer on a single platform to give our customers a powerful, seamless and consistent set of capabilities across the entire network.”

SD-WAN is seemingly becoming more popular with enterprise IT departments, with IDC forecasting the worldwide market for SD-WAN infrastructure growing compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40.4% from 833 million in 2017 to more than 4.5 billion in 2022.

“Network challenges are coming to the fore as organizations worldwide embrace multi-cloud as a means of achieving digital-transformation objectives,” said Brad Casemore of IDC. “Indeed, IDC finds that enterprises are thinking more comprehensively and holistically about how their networks will support the full spectrum of multi-cloud – from on-premises datacenters to IaaS and Saas public clouds and out to the branch offices and remote locations that constitute the intelligent edge.”

Nuage Networks claim first-generation SD-WAN solutions have been limited in scope to automating and managing connectivity of branch offices, which are underserved by IP-VPN services. However, with more businesses migrating to the cloud, the need to provide seamless WAN connectivity also increases. This means connectivity between customer premises equipment at branch and regional sites, as well as to private data centres, SaaS providers and public clouds. It is quickly becoming an increasingly complex tapestry.

Taking 5G into action – the benefit of ‘end-to-end’ periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Volker Held, Head of 5G Market Development, Mobile Networks at Nokia looks at some best practice when rolling out 5G.

5G New Radio (NR) is happening and now. The standards and technology are ready, and commercial roll-outs are starting in markets such US, Japan, Korea, China and Australia. We have seen some exciting recent progress in technology:

5G has become truly mobile with the first transmission of a 3GPP 5G NR Layer 3 call. A 5G signal has been successfully sent to a receiver situated in a moving vehicle with seamless handoff of the signal from one radio sector to another. There are many challenging RF conditions on the move, such as trees interfering with the signal and reflections from buildings – so this is an important milestone on the road to ensuring flawless end to end access, coverage and performance for 5G deployments.

There has also been a first demonstration of a 5G NR connection over Massive MIMO. Beamforming based on massive arrays of controllable antenna elements is a key enabler for 5G’s superior spectral efficiency, boosting the capacity of radio networks.

And last but least there has been a first live deployment of Cloud RAN centralized and distributed (Central Unit/Distributed Unit) split architecture in China paving the way for leveraging the scalability and agility of cloud technology for 5G radio.

And the biggest proof point that we are moving from the lab in to the field are the commercial agreements that have already been signed between network vendors such as Nokia and frontrunner Communication Service Providers.

5G cuts across the entire network

What stands out from most of the 5G contracts awarded is that they not only contain 5G NR radio software but a complete set of solutions and services across the whole network. This seems to be an indicator of a global trend where operators prepare their core and transport domains, not just radio, for 5G.

And it is not just telecoms services operators that are moving in to 5G end-to-end. Nokia is working with T-Mobile and HPA on a large-scale network slicing trial at the port of Hamburg. The trial serves an industrial area of 8,000 hectares with resilient and secure slices and customized SLAs to support different use cases, including, but not limited to: intelligent transport systems; more secure operations using augmented reality; control and management of water gates as well as improved pollution control by connected sensors on moving barges.

You need a lot more than radio to meet the stringent logistic and environmental requirements of a harbour, and Nokia’s 5G solution is covering all network domains. The same applies for trials in areas such as manufacturing or automotive where all parts of the network need high level of connected intelligence to jointly manage the applications that run over the network. In other words: all pieces of the network need to synchronize in perfect harmony.

Tight interworking is needed for applications with tough requirements; be it the need for constant throughput, single digit milliseconds latency, or industrial grade resiliency and security. We expect the ultra-reliable low latency communication (ULLRC) dimension of the 5G equation the interworking of radio, transport, core, datacenters and Management and Operations will become even more critical as low end-to-end latency and extreme reliability drive success for many business-critical applications.

For example, it does not help if only the radio and core are aware of the use case requirements; transport is the glue in between the infrastructure and between the network functions and also need to be part of the equation. The performance attributes of network functions demand strict transport SLAs. The interconnection of these network function workloads spans the datacenter (cloud) and wide area (transport) networking domains. However, creating transport network services on-demand, and at scale, is not easy when end points cross different network domains. We must also automate the interaction between datacenter and wide area networks such that network functions in the former can easily leverage transport SLAs in the latter.

A wide end-to-end approach delivers tangible business benefits

Because of its importance, it is inevitable that the term “end-to-end” becomes overused when talking about 5G. Recently I have seen labels such as “end-to-end radio” and “end-to-end core solution” which in fact point to isolated domain solutions only. I think that with 5G, we need to go one step further and go beyond single domain solutions and focus on the entire network architecture. That is what end to end means and requires in the 5G context.

A wide architecture based end-to-end approach provides tangible advantages: Verified interoperability across domains can significantly reduce risk, minimize integration effort and cut time-to-market. It also raises the level of automation, enabling the entire network to automatically adapt to changing connectivity requirements. We estimate that end-to-end automation leads to an overall TCO savings in the range of 30% because you can avoid unnecessary operational effort and utilizing existing investments more efficiently.

Finally, end-to-end lifts the quality of the 5G network as a whole. In conjunction with the network slicing capabilities it offers, 5G provides a sound basis for the diversification of revenue sources for operators, because they can meet the stringent requirements of any given vertical market segments can throw at them.


volker-held-192_436_16 (002)At Nokia, Volker is focused on combining the technology and business side of innovation. He heads Nokia’s 5G market development activities for the company, helping to create the future of telecommunications. He was also one of the founders of Nokia FutureWorks and brought Technology Vision 2020 to life. Meet Nokia at 5G Asia this week in Singapore.

IBC 2018: Nokia moonwalking explained by Velocix CEO

The video segment has been claiming scalps faster than Conan the Barbarian recently, but Velocix thinks it’s a move which makes perfect sense for Nokia.

While many at IBC 2018 this week have been complaining fragmentation in the industry is making business harder to conduct, Velocix feel this is the very factor which will oil the cogs and get the machine running smoothly again. Following the announcement Nokia would be divesting its interest in the video segment, we took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Nokia’s Paul Larbey in search of a more detailed explanation for the backtracking.

“The video segment requires a level of specialism from the technology through to sales which becomes difficult to do when you’re in a big company,” said Larbey, current CEO of the Nokia video business and future CEO of the newly formed Velocix. “Sales cycles are different, customer management is different. The separation allows for agility in a much more dynamic industry.”

But like Cisco and Ericsson, Nokia haven’t managed to exit the troublesome video segment completely. Nokia will still have a minority, and undisclosed, stake in the business, and will continue to act as a Velocix reseller. Larbey highlighted this relationship will be important in the first instance to manage relationships with customers, but also to maintain credibility with some more prickly accounts. Velocix will be a much smaller player, and the security of Nokia will comfort some.

The video segment has never been a particularly lush pasture for Nokia. Having entered the market, it exited, selling assets to Accenture, only to have another crack years later. Recent years have been somewhat of a struggle, though Larbey feels the Nokia business simply wasn’t right for the world of video.

Taking the explanation with a pinch of salt, according to Larbey, none of the buyers in the video space like buying end-to-end solutions, a Finnish speciality. The emphasis in the video segment is to purchase best in class solutions and products, most likely from smaller organizations, patching together their own supply chain. The trend has never leant towards purchasing a complete end-to-end, most likely proprietary, solution from a single vendor. Nokia likes to lock-in customers, and despite trying for years, it wasn’t able to strong-arm the industry into its own way of thinking.

With Volaris, Larbey and his team have an opportunity to operate as a smaller, more agile organization, which can make more responsive R&D decisions. It is the specialist service offering which the video segment craves.

Looking forward, Larbey will remain in charge of the Nokia video business until January 1 when he will take over as the CEO of Velocix. Aside from delivering the same experience for customers in the OTT and MNO segments, the team will also be aiming to expand, serving more customers in the programming and broadcast space. These are buoyant markets, which Nokia was unable to crack; it was too far removed from the traditional networking business.

While this is news enough for today, it is worth keeping an eye out for new product launches during the early months of 2019. Larbey was unable to give any specific details, though the sights have been set on launching offerings which will allow for a more personalised user experience for streaming.

The spin is whirlwind like, but the message does make sense in an unusual way. Video will not compensate for the Nokia struggles in the core business, and while momentum seems to be shifting in the right direction, perhaps it is a sensible decision to remove distractions. Nokia is a network business and it needs to sort out the cash cow before spending too much time on differentiation.