Operator to densify 3G and 4G networks, lay groundwork for NB-IoT, 5G in 31 provinces

China Unicom on Thursday announced a small cell deal with Nokia as part of its effort to densify its 4G network, and pave the way for 5G and narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) services.

Under the agreement, the Finnish kit maker will supply its Flexi Zone small cells and AirScale low power radio head. Nokia will also provide planning, optimisation, equipment commissioning and care services. The agreement covers 31 provinces, equal to around 20% of China Unicom’s network.

"We have developed a small cell portfolio that will allow operators to cost-efficiently densify and scale their networks, boosting 3G and 4G performance to stay ahead of demand. By combining this small cell technology with our extensive global services expertise, we can optimise any deployment for China Unicom," said Gao Bo, head of Nokia Shanghai Bell’s customer business team for China Unicom, in a statement.

Densifying its mobile network with small cells will help China Unicom ensure better service to its growing 4G customer base which, according to its most recent operating report, has increased by 55 million during 2017 to reach 160 million.

The Chinese telco has opted to roll out four different types of Nokia small cell: the Flexi Zone Mini-Macro, designed to provide macro-sized coverage in areas where site availability it limited; the AirScale Micro remote radio head (RRH) that supports 3G and 4G; the Flexi Zone Micro, which adds capacity in busy locations; and the Flexi Zone Pico, which is used to extend indoor coverage inside homes and offices.

Nokia’s equipment can also be upgraded over the air to support NB-IoT services, laying the groundwork for China Unicom to offer cellular IoT services later down the line.