Last week, I caught up with Cormac Whelan, CEO for the UK and Ireland at Nokia, to talk about his company’s plans for 5G, full fibre fixed line and rural connectivity solutions – and all points in between
What has Nokia been up to this year on the 5G front?
“I think ‘running furiously’ best describes it – as everybody has been. The big difference now from where we were 12 months ago is that we finally have the standards in place.
“The big challenge, for us as vendors as well as for consumers and enterprises, was trying to separate the 5G hype from the reality. We’ve all been talking about 5G for a number of years, but it was always in an abstract kind of way. Over the last seven or eight months, we’ve had a lot of hype over 5G’s imminent arrival, but what does that really mean? People are asking: does that mean we are going to start seeing autonomous vehicles on the streets, and things like that, immediately. The answer is obviously no – but we need to communicate what it does mean.
“While the conversations have become more pragmatic, I would say that separating the hype from the reality is one of the main challenges of 5G -particularly for vendors.
“I think we all realise now that the initial use cases are going to be: bigger pipes, quicker download speeds, much more capacity for operators. The hype use cases will come along a little bit further down the line.”
Looking ahead to forthcoming 5G launches and stand-alone 5G, what are you most excited about?
“I think we’ve seen a number of things come to fruition recently. One thing to note is that a 5G launch does not equate to a panacea of 5G everywhere. A 5G launch from one operator is not necessarily the same thing as a 5G launch from another operator. We are seeing the operators playing to their skills based on where their footprint is or where their customers are. Each operator is at a very different point in their evolution. Some are completely rebuilding – like Three, who are building a completely new organisation to be the leanest, fastest, best brand in the business.
“BT are obviously looking to leverage their acquisition of EE into being a much better end-to-end communications provider
“So, all of the operators have their individual strengths, and they have their individual kick off points for 5G.
“The picture isn’t yet clear exactly what 5G is going to look like once the dust has settled and I don’t think the dust will settle completely for a little while yet.”
What do you make of the current security concerns around 5G in the UK and around the world?
“Personally, I would say that any subjugation of anyone in the technology industry is bad for the industry as a whole because it introduces uncertainty into the industry and uncertainty is never good.
“Nobody really likes to see good competitors in difficulty because competition is good for all of us – both for the customer in a commercial sense, and for us in terms of innovation.
“The current situation is not very clear cut. We have bans of some kind or another in some locations, we have restrictions of some kind in other places, we have reports that suggest certain things in other geographies. We don’t yet have a fully clear position in the UK on what the government is going to take a position on. Uncertainty is terrible for everybody – operators, customer and vendors alike.
“Exactly how this will turn out remains to be seen. Huawei are a strong competitor; we would like to think that our technology stands on its own and we absolutely stand behind the notion that it does.
“The US has been a non-Chinese environment for networks for a long time. Clearly other vendors, including ourselves, benefit from that. Their market conditions are different and in some Asian countries it is the other way around.
“So, at the moment, I think the jury is still out on how this is all going to play out. Operators here in the UK already have Huawei deployed in their networks. So, the uncertainty is the biggest problem – it’s not good for anyone.”
Are you anticipating having to jump through any additional security hoops as a result of the security debate over Huawei?
“I think there is a natural expectation that anybody who provides technology in this area, particularly as we go into more and more security aware environments and as the world becomes increasingly digitalised, will provide a secure and resilient architecture. I think that’s a good thing and I think it’s a good thing that all vendors will be held to account.
“We work very closely with the DCMS and NCSC on regular requirements on security capabilities and testing. We’ve been part of the supply chain review that DCMS are doing.
“Security is now one of the hottest topics in the network environment and quite rightly so.”
Keep your eyes peeled for part two of our interview with Cormac Whelan, which will be published 9am on Wednesday morning.