The networking division of Nokia announced today that it will be able to upgrade existing 4G radio towers to 5G through a software update, without the need for complicated on-site access and engineering. The company says it can upgrade one million radios immediately, 3.1 million by the end of the year, and 5 million in 2021.
In the announcement, the company says that most of the 5G deployments so far have been based on mmWave and cmWave TDD technology, but that refarming 4G FDD spectrum for 5G will be an important step. Naturally, this won't change the frequencies that these radios work at, so you won't get mmWave speeds, but since most 4G networks operate on lower frequencies, that means they have wider coverage, so 5G could be available to more people.
Nokia also recently added support for Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) between 4G and 5G, so upgrading a tower to 5G won't alienate 4G customers. The company also supports DSS for older networks, all the way back to 2G.
The main appeal of a software upgrade is fairly obvious - cost savings. Without the need for visits to the radio sites or engineering work, carriers can save "potentially tens of billions of euros", according to Nokia. It's unclear, however, how much the software upgrade itself will cost.