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Nokia and China Unicom are to offer Nokia Flexi Zone small cells and an AirScale low power radio head for deployment in 31 provinces in China. This will give China Unicom's subsidiaries new flexibility as they densify busy city 3G and 4G LTE networks and further enhance performance in suburban and rural locations.

“This agreement extends the long-term cooperation between China Unicom and Nokia,” said Gao Bo, head of Customer Business Team for China Unicom at Nokia Shanghai Bell. “We have developed a small cell portfolio that will allow operators to cost-efficiently densify and scale their networks, boosting 3G and 4G performance to stay ahead of demand. By combining this small cell technology with our extensive global services expertise, we can optimize any deployment for China Unicom.”

Initial small cell deployments will allow China Unicom subsidiaries to extend coverage and capacity to meet growing subscriber mobile data demands. According to China Unicom's most recent operating report, the company has seen the number of 4G subscribers on its network increase during 2017 by approximately 55 million to reach a total of over 160 million.

By deploying the Nokia Flexi Zone portfolio, China Unicom will be able to densify the network where it isn't possible to add a macro base station because of space or cost constraints. Small cells can also be used to extend coverage and capacity inside offices and homes, as well as in high-traffic locations such as train stations and shopping malls.

The ability to upgrade the small cell portfolio via software to deliver narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) support means that the deployments will also lay the foundation for the future introduction of IoT and 5G services. Future implementation of NB-IoT will enable the connection of myriad sensors for the delivery of many smart city services, including smart transport and metering systems as well as the introduction of smart healthcare.

Nokia will leverage its extensive global services expertise to optimize small cell deployments for China Unicom, including network planning and optimization, equipment commissioning and care in warrantee services.