“We aim to have technology that’s the best, the first, the fastest, and the smallest”

Better connected

Nokia Solutions and Networks Japan takes telecommunications to the next level


October 2020 Business Spotlight / Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Michael Holmes

Imagine an interconnected medical system capable of monitoring elderly individuals’ health in real time so that when one person has an emergency, such as a heart attack, an ambulance is alerted without anyone needing to make a phone call. Or imagine a public transport system, filled with sensors, that can tell our phones to the second when a train will arrive, which carriage is the least crowded, and even which seats are empty. Global telecommunications giant Nokia has long been laying the groundwork for such a connected world.

Founded in Finland in 1865, Nokia today operates in 120 countries and provides end-to-end solutions through its many business groups, including mobile networks, fixed networks, optical and IP networks, global services, and software, as well as Nokia Technologies, which manages our intellectual property portfolio.

In Japan, the firm has worked for more than 30 years developing cutting-edge products with local communication solution providers, such as NTT Docomo, KDDI, SoftBank and Rakuten. The breakthroughs that have been achieved here ultimately benefit Nokia’s clients globally.

“Japan is an innovator within the telecommunication space, and being close to the first-movers and fast-movers here is critical,” says John Lancaster-Lennox, president and representative corporate officer of Nokia Solutions and Networks Japan. “We take innovation from Japan and combine it with our own technology, then we export interesting ideas and concepts that we then use in the rest of the world.”

With its fifth generation (5G) telecommunications networks now being rolled out globally, Nokia is pushing the limits of network technology’s potential. The increased speeds of 5G will allow users to download a film to their device, for example, in a matter of seconds. However, 5G is far more than just a faster internet connection for your phone.

“There are three main advantages of 5G. Speed is one, yes, but another is the ability to connect to many more endpoints,” he says. “We typically think of endpoints as phones but, with 5G, we can have many connected sensors, which will truly enable the Internet of Things — something we’ve been talking about for years now. The third advantage is low latency.”

Latency refers to the delay in communication between two points. By creating 5G networks that dramatically reduce this lag, Nokia is unlocking the potential for a wide range of applications that require immediate automatic responses for efficiency and safety, such as self-driving cars.

“If you’re in a car and it suddenly needs to stop, the speed of the reaction of the network is absolutely critical,” Lancaster-Lennox explains. “If it takes a few milliseconds more, you would have travelled another 10 to 15 metres, and by then maybe you’ve hit something. So, it’s important to make sure that the response of the network is as fast as possible — even faster than a human.”

Lancaster-Lennox began his career in the 1990s, when he was in his 20s and 2G networks were the norm. He feels that he has grown alongside wireless communications as each new decade has seen a new generation of the technology rolled out. Over those years, Nokia has consistently evolved to provide its customers with the latest innovations.

“We aim to have technology that’s the best, the first, the fastest, and the smallest, with the lowest power consumption,” he says. “Back in 2G days, a base station radio receiver/transmitter was the size of a double fridge freezer. Now it’s like a pizza box, and it has thousands of times more capability than before.”

Japan has particular advantages that has made it an ideal trialling ground for Nokia’s 5G technology. The Japanese government quickly cleared the spectrum of the radio frequency band necessary for 5G to function, and — thanks to significant foresight and investment — the country also has a large amount of “dark fibre”, unused optical fibre that will help to increase network capacity and speed.

Lancaster-Lennox believes that Japan’s welcoming attitude towards the next stage of the digital age — referred to here as Society 5.0 — has allowed the nation to move more quickly with the technology than others.

“I think that’s an excellent way of thinking of it: it lifts society to another level, it provides information, and it allows people to live a fuller, richer life,” he says. “I think from a Japanese perspective, all of that is absolutely relevant when you consider the large, ageing population.”

One example he gives is the combining of health-monitoring hardware and software with real-time 5G data transfers, which can be used to provide updates to doctors and family. Another is that, as autonomous driving is embraced, these vehicles will keep people mobile and independent for longer.

Lancaster-Lennox also highlights how 5G will enable the advent of smart cities, which are capable of collecting massive amounts of data, through sensors embedded throughout society, to effectively allocate and use resources.

“With more people in a city, higher levels of information-sharing become important to control water systems, electricity systems, and other basic functions,” he says. “The logistics of a city like Tokyo is an incredible ballet, and to make it work well as it gets denser, it will need to continue to become more sophisticated.”

Smart city applications will be especially helpful during natural disasters. Nokia has a partnership with the city of Sendai, which suffered extensive damage after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, to create a proof of concept for future smart cities and help them prepare for similar disasters. Nokia successfully trialled the use of drones — connected to private wireless networks — in alerting people of a disaster, directing evacuees to shelters, and assisting in search and rescue operations.

“The first issue in any crisis is communication, both with first responders and the public,” Lancaster-Lennox says. “The Sendai proof of concept shows that it works, and we are moving towards true applications and services that will enable a safer future. We look forward to seeing that expand both throughout Japan and more broadly around the world.”

5G-enabled technology that keeps people safe and cities running smoothly will change societies for the better in countless ways. But, according to Lancaster-Lennox, smart cities, self-driving cars, and the Internet of Things are just the beginning.

“There are still things that people haven’t invented or even thought about yet,” he says. “I think it’s going to be really interesting to see what ideas come about. Right now, we’re really only scratching the surface.”

“it’s important to make sure that the response of the network is as fast as possible — even faster than a human”