5G is coming faster than most people think, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri says.
The next generation of mobile networks will start to get defined "in real terms" by the end of this year, Suri said at a press briefing in Barcelona on Sunday, the eve of Mobile World Congress (MWC).
Official estimates say the 5G standard won't be complete until 2020. Suri thinks there's too much demand to wait that long.
"2020 is probably when we'll see global volume deployments, but we'll probably start to see a lot of action, in an evolutionary way, ahead of 2020 -- 2017, 2018, 2019," he said.
Users and service providers know more about what they need 5G for, at this stage of the game, than they did when 3G and 4G were being developed, Suri said. Key needs include high speed for video and virtual reality, low latency for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and the ability to connect thousands of devices to a cell.
Some will be implemented before 5G is formally finished, but the standard itself is on a faster path than expected, too, he said.
Software-defined and cloud-based networking will help to make that fast pace possible. Suri announced Nokia's next-generation base station technology, called AirScale Radio Access, saying it will be "5G-ready," largely because so much of the system will operate in software.
AirScale Radio Access will be demonstrated for the first time at MWC. It includes mechanisms for using unlicensed spectrum, such as LTE Wi-Fi Aggregation, which gives users the combined capacity of both types of networks. There will also be computing power in the network that third parties can use to run applications that take advantage of low-latency connections.
Suri gave a vote of confidence in his company's $16.5 billion acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent, which Nokia took over in January. It combines two of the biggest wired and wireless network vendors at a time of rapid industry consolidation. It also brings together a pair of companies that have had more than their share of rough mergers over the years -- Nokia with Siemens and Alcatel with Lucent Technologies.
"I've seen almost none of the organizational angst and infighting that have characterized earlier deals," Suri said.
The company now has more than 40,000 researchers and scientists. It's still willing to sell off divisions that can't lead in their market, Suri said. But one business it plans to keep is Nuage Networks, the software-defined networking unit created by Alcatel.
It's also adding businesses. On Sunday, Nokia announced the acquisition of Nakina Systems, a Canadian maker of security software for things like managing identities and isolating vulnerabilities. It didn't disclose the cost, which should close by the end of next month.