Nokia’s ReefShark in-house silicon expertise is a firm step toward efficient 5G network roll-outs – An interview with Nokia

Fifth generation (5G) wireless technology is much more than just new frequencies. It also includes tremendous changes in network equipment’s baseband components, which require new technology building blocks. These technologies are being developed in order to offer a complete and efficient solution to network operators for their 5G deployments. Complexity comes, for example, at the digital level. There, baseband virtualization is performed in cloud radio access networks. Complexity also comes from network slicing and other digital functions needed for proper 5G use. This innovation creates the need for new Systems-on-Chips (SoCs) in parallel with the radio front-end innovations seen at antenna level. In this context, Nokia has created the ReefShark product line to address 5G’s needs. ReefShark is implemented together with Nokia’s AirScale product line that addresses the new sub-6GHz and millimeter wavelength (mmWave) radio bands. Phil Twist, Vice President Networks Marketing and Communications at Nokia, agreed to discuss the company’s ReefShark product line, meant to address the challenges of 5G for telecom infrastructures, with Yole Développement. Read on to find out about these challenges, which are also explained and detailed in Yole Développement’s report “5G’s impact on telecom infrastructure 2019”.

Antoine Bonnabel, Technology & Market Analyst, RF devices and technology at Yole Développement (Yole) discussed with  Phil Twist, VP, Networks Marketing & Communications, at Nokia.

Antoine Bonnabel (AB): Could you please describe your position and mission at Nokia to our readers?

Phil Twist (PT): I’m vice president networks marketing and communications at Nokia. Our mission is to show how Nokia delivers the extraordinary for 5G, taking advantage of Nokia’s radio access, fixed access, transport, Internet Protocol (IP)/Optical and Global Services portfolio. We run very targeted campaigns to address the different buying personas in our customers’ organizations.

AB: What is your general vision of the status of 5G today? Where does Nokia place itself in this race?

PT: While 5G is still in its infancy, its place in the world is rapidly developing. In recent months there has been a spate of high-profile 5G deployments around the world, starting with South Korea and the US. The first 5G networks are going live in every continent. Operators in many more countries are in the process of rolling-out their 5G networks. Public interest is massive and in addition to the expected exposure in industry media channels, news concerning 5G regularly features in many of the mainstream news outlets.  This is understandably so, as 5G offers new opportunities and capabilities to subscribers and enterprises alike. To evidence this and help position Nokia in this race, as of 24 July 2019 we have 45 commercial agreements, with 24 of these in the public domain. This is real momentum for both 5G as a technology and for Nokia as a leading vendor in this exciting period.

AB: Could you please introduce Nokia’s ReefShark product line?

PT: Nokia launched its unique ReefShark SoC products in January 2018. At the time, it was a differentiator amongst network equipment vendors, giving Nokia a time-to-market advantage and flexibility on feature capabilities. Importantly, ReefShark has allowed us to realize and deliver high-performance solutions as the 5G era, in which the demands on equipment and its capabilities have never been greater. The ReefShark product portfolio covers a variety of base-station functions from the digital front-end, through to baseband processing SoCs.  In common with all new technology introductions, the portfolio will develop in-line with market demands and as 5G matures.

AB: The 5G landscape covers the electromagnetic spectrum from sub-6 GHz frequencies up to millimeter waves, and technologies from macro-sites down to small cells. Will ReefShark products cover this whole range?

PT: Nokia AirScale products using new ReefShark SoCs will cover a wide range of the latest mobile network needs, including baseband and radio-frequency (RF)-units for both macro and small cell use cases. As 5G introduces the use of spectrum not previously used for mobile telecom at both sub-6 GHz frequencies and at millimeter wavelengths, new chips will be developed or adapted to address these requirements.

AB: To what kind of radio-frequency (RF) front-ends is the ReefShark baseband best adapted? Does it support only massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) active antennas, or also common remote radio heads?

PT: Nokia’s AirScale System Module is a highly versatile baseband unit, which delivers both high capacity and supports multiple radio access technologies. Importantly, it readily supports both traditional remote radio heads and the increasingly important massive MIMO antennas that are becoming ever more commonplace as 5G network deployments gather pace. The ReefShark family of SoCs delivers the necessary compute capabilities to support the massive needs of today’s increasingly complex networks and a wide range of network architectures, all in highly integrated devices.

AB: ReefShark works together with commercial Nokia AirScale products as a baseband add-on to address 5G. Will AirScale address 5G in sub-3.5 GHz bands exclusively by adding the ReefShark baseband unit? Or will sub-3.5 GHz AirScale products also evolve with regard to front-ends?

PT: Nokia’s AirScale System Module is modular and is configured using so-called ‘plug-in units’. The plug-in units slot into what is known as the ‘sub-rack’ to provide the required functions and system capacity according to network needs. The latest versions of these plug-in units utilize the new ReefShark SoCs. Existing and new AirScale plug-in units, the latter being fitted with the ReefShark SoCs, work seamlessly together and can be used in the same System Module sub-rack as required. Earlier generation units support existing second, third and fourth generation standards (2G/3G/4G), while the latest ReefShark-powered units unleash the full potential of 5G.

Courtesy of Nokia: Nokia Reefshark
Courtesy of Nokia: Nokia Reefshark

AB: Are pure 5G standalone AirScale systems commercially available today? Do they employ the ReefShark baseband add-on, or are they made with a different dedicated technology?

PT: Nokia AirScale products with 5G capability are commercially available today utilizing the unique Nokia ReefShark technology.

AB: Nokia offers small form factor products in its new products. Does this imply a higher level of electronic integration in the ReefShark systems? Or the use of advanced technology nodes?

PT: Nokia ReefShark SoCs leverage both new architectural concepts and advanced silicon technology to realize high levels of integration. This in turn allows us to design and build smaller and more energy-efficient products.

AB: From your perspective, will Nokia’s expertise in silicon also apply to the RF front-end, or will new technologies like GaN be employed for high sub-6 GHz bands?

PT: Nokia’s silicon expertise covers both baseband and digital/small signal RF front-end technologies. For high power RF front-end parts, Nokia closely collaborates with leading power amplifier device vendors to ensure the optimal solution for each use case. GaN devices are an attractive option for high power sub-6 GHz power amplifiers; Nokia is using them in some of the AirScale RF-units.


Interviewee

Phil Twist is VP, Networks Marketing & Communications for Nokia and has been active in the telecoms industry since 1984. He and his team work closely with the business lines to build audience centric marketing campaigns for Nokia’s portfolio of products, services and solutions in order to create thought leadership, identify and qualify new business opportunities and influence customers’ vendor selections. The team also prepare content and collateral for analyst, press and media relations and messaging and materials to help enable the sales teams for the full Nokia portfolio of networking solutions. The scope of the portfolio covers forthcoming technologies such as 5G and Cloud and a full suite of fixed, radio, optical, IP, transport and core infrastructure including IoT connectivity, small cells, MulteFire and WiFi solutions. The portfolio includes a full suite of Global Services including network planning and optimization services, system integration, implementation, care and managed services.
Phil has extensive experience working with operators to implement innovative solutions and achieve business success. In his earlier positions at Nokia Siemens Networks and Nokia Networks, which he joined in 1999, he was global Sales Director for Vodafone, head of the Customer Team, responsible for Hutchison’s business in the UK and head of a Business Development team.


Interviewer

Antoine Bonnabel works as a Technology & Market Analyst for the Power & Wireless team of Yole Développement (Yole). He carries out technical, marketing and strategic analyses focused on RF devices, related technologies and markets.
Prior to Yole, Antoine was R&D Program Manager for DelfMEMS (FR), a company specializing in RF switches and supervised Intellectual Property and Business Intelligence activities of this company. In addition, he also has co-authored several market reports and is co-inventor of three patents in RF MEMS design.
Antoine holds a M.Sc. in Microelectronics from Grenoble Institute of Technologies (France) and a M.Sc. in Management from Grenoble Graduate School of Business (France).


Related report

5G’s Impact on Telecom Infrastructure 2019
Network evolution and 5G implementation are driving massive structural changes.

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