To catch up, Nokia is strengthening its AirScale 5G equipment

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Facing competition, Nokia has unveiled its Airscale 5G radio units. To make the difference, the equipment manufacturer is betting on a light weight and on its ReefShark chip. It is thus catching up with Ericsson and Huawei in massively MIMO and single RAN solutions for the deployment of 5G.

Nokia AirScale's Massive MIMO antennas do not p

5G will be at the heart of discussions at the Mobile World Congress 21 taking place in Barcelona. Although many exhibitors have preferred to decline their presence due to the health crisis, this does not mean an absence of announcements. Thus, Nokia had taken the lead in lifting the veil on its AirScale 5G products. This is equipment for base stations comprising Massive MIMO antennas (32TRX or 64TRX), radio modules equipped with the in-house chip named ReefShark and a radio head (8TR8).

In detail, Nokia wants to facilitate the deployment of 5G and relies on light equipment. Thus, the version with Massive MIMO 32TRX antennas (32 transmitters/receivers) weighs only 17 kg without performance degradation. It supports a larger spectral bandwidth (occupied bandwidth of 200 MHz and instantaneous bandwidth of 400 MHz). The weight is an important criterion for the operators, who do not mobilize a crane to hoist the radio unit on the high point. Ericsson and Huawei recently presented a Massive MIMO offer at 20 kg and 19 kg, but in a 64TRX version. Nokia promises with the Airscale 5G to support fragmented spectrum scenarios, network sharing and improved beanforming. The latter consists of focusing a wireless signal towards a specific receiving device, instead of broadcasting it in all directions from a radio antenna, as is usually the case.

Radio modules equipped with the ReefShark chip

At the same time, the Finnish manufacturer offers plug-in cards for the radio part based on the in-house SoC named ReefShark (chip launched in 2018). This chip promises a reduction in the size of MIMO antennas, but also to integrate artificial intelligence (for load balancing) and to support slicing. The latter cuts up the 5G network to allocate capacity (throughput, latency, QoS) to a specific use. According to Nokia, radio cards equipped with ReefShark offer up to eight times the throughput and serve up to eight times more cells compared to previous generations. These modules can support 90,000 simultaneously connected users and offer a throughput of 84 Gbps. The equipment manufacturer is also updating the software brick to bring 5G into the world of singleRAN, that is to say that a base station is capable of managing all mobile networks. Thus, the modules are able to offer 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and multiband. It should also be noted that the AirScale 5G range is compatible with the specifications of the Open RAN alliance, which should allow operators to use a mix of products from different suppliers on the same site.

Tommi Uitto, CEO of Nokia, presents radio cards based on the ReefShark chip. (Photo credit: Nokia)

With the update of its AirScale 5G portfolio, Nokia intends to catch up with competition from Huawei and Ericsson. The group had changed bosses in March 2020 with the aim of making up for this delay. In this context, he had established partnerships with Intel, Broadcom and Marvell to accelerate on ReefShark chips. Faced with the problem of the supply of chips, in particular from Intel, Nokia was forced to fall back on FPGA chips supplied by Xilinx, but these are more resource and energy intensive, underline our colleagues from Lightreading.

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