Nokia and Zain Saudi Arabia (Zain KSA) are joining up for a new 4.9G pilot program, using 5G equipment to bolster the network in Jeddah in the leadup to a full deployment of services. Nokia says the test will specifically make use of its own 5G-ready AirScale massive MIMO antenna on the 2.6 GHz TD-LTE network spectrum.
The goal of the pilot is to test the viability of pushing network speeds up to over 700 Mbps on a per-user basis thanks to the 64-Transmit-64-Receive and Gigabit throughput capabilities of Nokia's equipment. The result should be a serious boost to both capacity and speed, stepping Zain KSA closer to a full 5G network if everything goes as planned.
This is not at all a Nokia first and not quite 5G
The technology being implemented, while it is a step closer to 5G, it isn't quite 5G. The 4.9G service that is currently being tested is technically LTE Advanced Pro under 3GPP standards release 13 and 14. Similar networks have been deployed in the US for some time and the same technology is behind AT&T's controversially dubbed "5G E" networks.
That means customers could theoretically hit speeds of up to a Gigabit per second but that it doesn't approach the multiple Gigabits per second expected from 5G.
The new partnership is bound to be good news to Zain KSA customers in Jeddah and elsewhere in the region but this is certainly not Nokia's first brush with next-generation networks. Deployment of 5G has also already begun in areas of the US and Nokia was able to take part in enabling the world's first 5G phone call from a moving vehicle back in August of last year. That test was important because it took place in a relatively uncontrolled environment compared to many of the prior 5G tests.
The first Android smartphones operating on 5G aren't expected to arrive until around the time of MWC 2019 in Barcelona at the end of this month. Samsung, LG, and several Chinese manufacturers including Xiaomi are expected to present concepts of those handsets during the event at a minimum. An HMD-built, Nokia-branded smartphone could arrive in 2019 as well.
The full Zain rollout
For the most recently announced trial between Nokia and Zain KSA, the carrier additionally indicated that it has plans to expand on its offerings to customers with new services enabled by the next-generation network. The products associated with those plans are presently unspecified may also include new services and products for business customers.
Since 5G smartphones may be few and far between for at least the first year following a more widespread rollout of the technology, Zain KSA's first products will likely mirror those from US carriers. Namely, the company will most likely begin by offering 5G home or portable services more comparable to Wi-Fi.
No details have been provided regarding the length of the trial period or the timeframe for a more complete rollout from the service provider, in the meantime. So it may be several more months at least before 4.9G becomes more widely available in the region.