Nokia brings deluge of detail with Ultra Dense Networks launches

Nokia ticks a lot of boxes with slew of Ultra Dense Networks releases. Will the market understand the vision?

Nokia Networks has announced its usual clutch of upgrades and product launches before Mobile World Congress (last year it had nearly 50 product announcements). Last week, as Ericsson took the wraps off a series of announcements,  Nokia released a vision announcement about its architectural foundations for a distributed/centralised RAN . It was short on specifics.

This morning’s series of announcements could scarcely be more different. Release after release feels deliberately packed with dense detail on feature upgrades, containing a whole host of technical terms and acronyms. All of these are grouped around a central theme of Ultra Dense Networks. So they are about combining spectrum, managing multi-layer networks, sharing and grouping radio  and baseband resources, designing new antennas for multiple bands and technologies, introducing smart control and scheduling of grouped cells, and so on and so on. This is Ultra Dense Detail for the Ultra Dense Network.

And yet underneath it all there is no single overarching product vision and revision such as Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent unveiled last week with their new digital baseband units, or newly-designed “single bolt install” radios, or new integrated backhaul lines. This is not a new radio product path, there’s no big reveal – instead it is a steady but prolific addition of capabilities to the existing product line, a consistent filling in of the portfolio. For example, one product line, SingleRAN, is the subject of no fewer than 20 product upgrades or announcements.

LTE-TDD – tick, Carrier Aggregation FDD-TDD, TDD, Licensed and unlicensed) – tick tick tick, CoMP – tick, PIM sniffing – tick, Het Net, LTE-U (LAA), C-RAN, 256QQAM 4x4MIMO, Enhanced Optimisation, Active Antennas… ti…well you get the picture.

 Here are the six press releases in question that Nokia delivered under its UDN banner:

LTD-TE Carrier Aggregation
Multi-layer optimisation
Liquid Radio Features
SingleRAN features
LTE Advanced upgrades
Het Net (FlexiZone) – includes LTE-U 

No doubt Nokia might claim this level of detail is because it already has many of the structural elements in place for the “new generation” radio network: – ie its Flexi radio units (with their feature parity between macro and micro products) that can form a multi-layer singleRAN. Last week it said it is now ready to take that and enable the next level of radio architecture, where resources can be distributed or centralised, all served by a virtualised software core.

This week, then, it is detail and more detail. If you like to geek out on term  like  Interference Rejection Combining Receiver then this is the series of releases for you.

It’s as if Nokia is determined to come out and prove its nerdiest, techiest credentials. Other companies may talk vision, but we deliver – that’s no doubt the intention . Certainly there are some advances. To take one example: new multiband Active Antennas support 4×2 and 4×4 MIMO in each band, with  the new Nokia Radio Antenna System combining an ultra wideband antenna and multiple standard Remote Radio Heads (RRH) in one enclosure.

Elsewhere though, you see that some of the detail is also mirrored by Ericsson’s 15B radio networks release. For example, Nokia’s Advanced HSUPA Time Division Scheduling is matched by a similar uplink throughput increase from Ericsson. You see also dual-band LTE picocells and 3G/WiFi picocells – products that in essence are reflected by those from other vendors (SpiderCloud, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent), although with the Nokia “feature parity” Flexizone twist. Shared basebands, energy efficiency, Carrier Aggregation features.

These are companies all delivering the 3GPP feature progression path that is laid out for and by them, but can’t be reinvented, no matter how much you press release it. This or that one will claim a first with this or that feature. The victories are often marginal, and often fleeting.

Not that there isn’t some “bright blue horizon” stuff going on as well. Included in many of the press releases are hints of demos that you can see at MWC of technologies that have not yet been productised – LTE-U, for example, or other examples of Carrier Aggregation of different bands and of adjacent cells. And of course there is last week’s release for the vision thing. But it will be interesting to see how much of this level of detail goes across, and how it is reflected in the company’s presence at MWC.