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Rumor: AT&T may dump Nokia

'AT&T is the next wireless operator customer to remove Nokia from their RAN vendor list,' suggested Earl Lum, a longtime analyst in the US wireless industry. AT&T and Nokia declined to comment on the rumor.

Mike Dano

December 1, 2023

4 Min Read
Close-up of Nokia headquarters in Espoo, Finland
(Source: Nokia)

According to one industry analyst, AT&T is considering removing Nokia from its list of 5G equipment suppliers.

"Various sources we have spoken to imply that AT&T is the next wireless operator customer to remove Nokia from their RAN vendor list," wrote analyst Earl Lum, of EJL Wireless Research, in a social media post Friday. "IF true, this would be another devastating blow for Nokia in the lucrative US RAN equipment market."

Verizon replaced Nokia with Samsung as one of its primary 5G equipment vendors in 2020. Ericsson is Verizon's other primary supplier.

AT&T has touted Ericsson and Nokia as its primary 5G equipment vendors.

In response to questions from Light Reading, a Nokia official said, "we do not comment on speculation." Similarly, an AT&T official said the company does not comment on rumors and speculation.

In his social media post, Lum explained that part of the reason Verizon dumped Nokia was because of Nokia's use of Intel chips in its products. In response, Nokia has inked new deals with Broadcom and Marvell, and refreshed its product portfolio.

"However, the introduction of the Osprey and Habrok radio platforms from Nokia over the past 2 years highlighted a critical design feature of their massive MIMO solutions, the need to put active/forced air cooling (a.k.a. fan units) on the back of some of the massive MIMO models," Lum wrote Friday. "We believe that Nokia's remaining two major U.S. wireless operator customers, AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile USA have not been enamored with the fan-based massive MIMO solutions from Nokia, based on our discussions with key people at both operators. We speculate that the need to employ forced air cooling was based partly on the power dissipation of the Intel ReefShark 1.0 chips used in these systems, coupled with Nokia's desire to reduce the overall system weight to match the Ericsson Gen 4 AIR6419/3219 solutions that weigh ~19-25kg."

Lum is a longtime analyst in the US wireless industry, known for disassembling vendors' products to investigate their innards. He was profiled in a Wall Street Journal article in 2021.

The context

AT&T, for its part, is currently working to install 5G radios into its network to make use of its new midband C-band and 3.45GHz spectrum holdings. Today AT&T covers around 190 million people with such spectrum. However, according to the financial analysts at Raymond James, AT&T is dragging its feet in the deployment of that midband spectrum.

Indeed, Ericsson, Nokia and other equipment vendors in recent months have reported a major slowdown in demand from network operators in the US.

One issue facing AT&T in the deployment of its C-band and 3.45GHz midband holdings is the question of dual-mode radios. T-Mobile officials have suggested the operator will wait to deploy its C-band and 3.45GHz holdings until vendors like Ericsson can make dual-band radios that support both bands in one gadget. AT&T officials, on the other hand, have suggested the operator might move forward with separate radios.

If AT&T does dump Nokia, "this would be a huge win for Ericsson in consolidating its North American RAN market share with 100% of AT&T Wireless, ~50% of Verizon Wireless, ~50% of T-Mobile USA, and 100% of Rogers Communications," Lum wrote.

One source familiar with AT&T who asked to remain anonymous suggested to Light Reading that AT&T might relegate Nokia as a supplier to its private wireless networking business. That business is much, much smaller than AT&T's nationwide 5G network operation.

It's also worth noting though that some vendor-swapping rumors have not come to pass. "There were rumors about AT&T swapping out Ericsson several years back and then earlier this year there was speculation about T-Mobile swapping out Nokia, and neither of these has materialized," noted analyst Stefan Pongratz of Dell'Oro Group.

Broadly, Verizon is using Ericsson and Samsung equipment for 5G, and T-Mobile is using Ericsson and Nokia equipment for its 5G network. Dish Network inked a major 5G deal with Samsung last year, and Comcast too plans to use Samsung radios for its small-scale 5G network. Charter Communications recently announced a deal with Nokia for its own small-scale 5G network.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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