Tarun Chhabra, Head, Mobile Networks Business, Nokia India

Telecom equipment vendors such as Nokia are playing an instrumental role in shaping India’s 5G trajectory. The company is enabling communication service providers (CSPs) to progress towards self-optimised and digitalised 5G networks while ensuring sustainability of network operations. Further, it is actively contributing towards global 6G technology development. In an interview with tele.net, Tarun Chhabra, head, mobile networks business, Nokia India, talks about the company’s initiatives in the 5G and 6G domains, recent partnerships and the way forward…

What are the energy and sustainability tren­ds in 5G network deployments? What are the initiatives taken by Nokia in this regard?

CSPs across the globe have a strong intent to improve the energy efficiency of their net­works while reducing their network cos­ts. In mature markets, around 20 per ce­nt of network opex is on energy while in developing markets, it can be up to 30 per cent. Most of the total network po­wer (around 80 per cent) is contributed by base transceiver stations (BTSs) and particularly radio units. Hence, there is a need to reduce network energy consumption.

With our new design approach, Digital Design for Energy Efficiency, we can minimise energy wastage, resulting from sub-optimal network planning and optimisation methods that do not take energy consumption and individual cell conditions in­to account. The approach requires no large-scale deployments, network moder­nisation or architecture redesign, and has no hardware impact. In addition to en­ergy savings, climate impact is a major con­cern for operators as they focus on reducing carbon emissions. We support our customers by addressing these issues through our software features and services. Imp­rov­ed performance with lower power consumption is at the heart of our product design. On an average, Nokia’s latest Air­Scale radio networks use up to 44 per cent less energy compared to our previous pro­duct line. We are on track to achieve our target of 100 per cent renewable electricity in our own facilities by 2025.

How is the industry’s progress towards digitalised and self-optimised 5G networks?

With 5G rolling out alongside 4G and other legacy infrastructures there will be an exponential increase in the number of moving parts that need to be managed. Fr­om managing the huge volume of nodes and base stations to the rapid deployment of new and innovative services, 5G makes au­tomation and digitalisation a necessity to maintain network performance and operational efficiency. Self-organising network (SON) is an excellent tool for radio netwo­rk optimisation. However, it re­qui­res high-level expertise in radio network optimisation to operate and realise its full benefits.

To this end, Nokia Cognitive SON powered by machine learning operates autonomously. This cloud-native solution identifies the radio network incident, an­alyses it, initiates the corrective actions and verifies the results. In addition, SON en­­ergy management reduces BTS consumption by up to 15 per cent, helping CSPs reduce their opex.

Which key verticals are making the most of 5G? What are the new use cases in these verticals?

On a global scale, only 30 per cent of the industry is digitalised now. Going forward, 5G will help enterprises unleash digital transformation for sustainability and efficiency, especially the physical industries such as manufacturing, utilities, transportation, mining and more. 5G and related technologies are expected to yield a 4x to 11x increase in the overall SPE metric (safety, productivity and efficiency) of a typical medium to large factory.

Fixed wireless access can be offered to consumers and enterprises as an alternative to fixed broadband and for providing high speed connectivity to remote areas and locations where fibre laying is not feasible. 5G will also play a pivotal role in expanding remote medical facilities while 5G-driven remote education will help children in remote and rural areas with easy access to quality education. Immer­sive gaming, sm­art venues, video apps and likes will piggyback on 5G for low latency, higher bandwidth and a seamless experience.

Agriculture will also benefit from 5G with smart agriculture-as-a-service solutions (soil probes, weather stations, crop ca­meras, etc.) driving productivity. Fu­rth­e­r­more, 5G will enable real-time video applications and analytics to deliver greater in­sights for smart cities, factories or environmental applications with real-time high definition video and AI-driven analytics.

How are Nokia’s recent partnerships with Indian telcos contributing to the 5G ecosystem?

Nokia has secured major deals with Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel as their 5G radio access network supplier, while enga­ge­ments are on with Vodafone Idea Li­mited (Vi). We are rolling out several th­ousand sites every month and are leveraging the experience of our global delivery centres in Chennai and Noida to support 5G deployments in India.

Further, we have partnered with the In­dian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru to establish the Networked Robotics Ce­ntre of Excellence at IISc to conduct re­se­arch in 5G and AI.

“Mobile data will more than double by 2024, with 5G as the new accelerator.”

What are the benefits of microwave E-band for accelerating 5G network deployments? What are the key offerings by Nokia in this segment?

With fibre-based backhaul accounting only for about 30 per cent of tower sites in India, there is a huge gap in terms of fibre density both in urban and rural areas. Mobile data in India will more than double by 2024, with 5G as the new accelerator as per the Nokia MBiT Report 2023. This would mean that we need to scale up the backhaul accordingly. The capacity available with the existing microwave bands will not be sufficient for 5G backhaul requirements.

E-band has emerged as a viable wireless backhaul option that is both easy to deploy and offers fibre-like performance. Nokia’s state-of-the-art Wavence UBT (Ultra-Broadband Transceivers) Micro­wa­ve platform is a perfect match and has demonstrated the full utilisation of E-ba­nd technology for 5G backhauling during the 5G field trials in India with our partner CSPs.

What opportunities does the government’s approval under the production-linked incen­tive (PLI) scheme offer for Nokia? What are the company’s manufacturing expansion plans in India?

Nokia is one of the major investors and producers under the PLI scheme and has already achieved its target under the first year of the programme. Nokia’s manufacturing facility in Chennai, set up in 2008, is one of the largest company-owned facilities in the world.

In February 2023, we announced the extension of manufacture of fibre broadba­nd equipment in India. This further adds to our efforts to establish the country as a global manufacturing hub.

The design-led production-linked inc­entive (DLI) scheme, sometimes refer­red to as PLI 2.0, aims to promote design-led ma­nufacturing and offers additional in­centives for products designed in India. Nokia is pro­ud to be part of PLI 2.0 as well.

What is Nokia’s vision for the 6G era? How soon do you expect it to arrive?

In the 6G era, the digital, physical and hu­man worlds will seamlessly fuse to trigger extrasensory experiences. The most notable aspect of 6G would be its ability to sense the environment, people and objects. The net­work becomes a source of situational in­formation, gathering signals that are bou­ncing off objects and determining type and shape, relative location, velocity and perhaps even material properties.

Nokia expects 6G systems to launch commercially by 2030, following the typical 10-year cycle between generations. The standardisation of Phase I will likely start from 2026 as part of 3GPP Release 20. Further, 5G-Advanced, the next standard enhancements for 5G, will act as the bridge between 5G and 6G.

Nokia is leading Hexa-X, the Europe­an Commission’s 6G flagship initiative for research into the next generation of wireless networks. It is also a founding member of the Next G Alliance, an initiative to advance the North American mobile technology leadership.

In India, there are three key forums that are driving the 6G pre-standardisation initiatives – 6G Technology Inno­va­tion Group under the Department of Teleco­mmunications, the Telecommunica­tio­ns Standards Development Society, and the 6G India Forum under the Cellular Op­erators Association of India. The Nokia Standards team is actively contributing to these initiatives, with the aim to enhance India’s competencies to make significant contributions towards the global 6G technology development.