When Rajeev Suri took charge as the CEO of Nokia’ networks division in 2009, he had a huge task of turning around the company. Five years later, after embarking on a transformational journey, Suri has taken the business to new heights. After selling its mobile phone business to Microsoft, Nokia Corporation named New Delhi-born Rajeev Suri as its CEO and President in May last year. The appointment was seen as a reward for Suri’s contribution in turning around Nokia's telecom networks business globally. He is now been entrusted with the task of charting out the future roadmap for brand Nokia. Suri spoke to BusinessLine on opportunities in India, new business areas for Nokia and the challenges ahead.

What are your top priorities?

We have said this year we expect to grow in all our businesses. On the network side, we continue to transform the business. We are looking for next level of efficiencies; continue to raise the bar on quality. We want to lead in LTE. We want to lead in the transition to the cloud. On Here (navigation service), we have a strong market share in the automotive space and now we want to move up the stack. In the technologies segment, we are incubating ideas and pursuing licensing.

What kind of ideas are you incubating?

We are looking at various things like graphene (the world’s hardest material). It can disrupt traditional technologies like x-ray. We are looking at technology licensing in this area. Tablet launch is a different way to bring our brand to consumers. We partnered Foxconn to be in the tablet space. We helped design the product, not just brand licensing. Another idea is a predictive application that starts to notice what you are doing with your device and predict what you would want to do.

So, the incubation will be in the area of internet?

We called it the programmable world or the third generation of internet. First was the fixed line internet then came mobile and third is the Internet of Things. It opens up a lot of opportunities both in consumer and industrial world to eliminate inefficiencies. It can be used for things like remote healthcare through diagnostic devices. On the industrial side, huge amount of efficiencies can be driven with devices like smart water for instance, which has sensors in pipes through which we can monitor leakages and stem it. Our objective is to how do you bring this to reality.

Are you doing this internally or through start-ups?

Bit of both. We have Nokia Growth Fund, which works with start-ups. We also connected cars fund. We have 170 programs in Nokia’s Technologies business and we have focussed on 7 or 8. I don’t want to talk about them because these are secret. In 5 years, Nokia will have new products than what it has now.

What are your views on Net neutrality? Should there be a regulatory intervention or should market forces determine it?

I have a balanced view on this. Very often a pro-consumer stand is taken which I don’t think it’s pro-consumer at all. I am all for open internet access but operators must be allowed to make money. They must be allowed to offer different quality of service, allow them to treat certain priority services that need priority like healthcare or driverless cars. If it’s all about no differentiating in quality of services then how will operators make money without this flexibility and how will they invest in networks. In the end consumers will suffer. We are for open internet but you need high degree of differentiations for some services.

How do you see India as a market?

In India, we have had a strong momentum. Our manufacturing is doing well. We have done half a million of 4G equipment even when 4G has not gone mainstream yet.. India is a strategic market. It means it’s a market with growth potential and we do more than just sell. We have the largest employee base in India, we did 2 million units last year from our manufacturing plant here and we have the global delivery which was gone well. In a cloud-based world, remote delivery centre is important. We have most of our global operations here.

How do you ensure that you keep the values of brand Nokia intact when you licence it out?

We have a strong governance mechanism. When we licence to partners we ensure that the product feels like a Nokia product should. It needs to represent Nokia, that’s why we have design team that we didn’t sell to Microsoft. So first we need agree on how the product will look, second we have governance conditions that partners needs to comply with. We can also help with marketing in some instances. We also have the right to intervene if there’s a problem. It took us a couple of quarters to do this.

Do you consider initiatives like Google’s Loon project and Facebook’s solar powered drones as disruptive?

They are all good ideas but they are not disruptions. It’s an opportunity for us. We are working with Google on some of these ideas. In my mind our industry needs to work with OTT players. I see them as part of the solution. We ourselves are leading the innovation space. We invented an application called liquid application on top of LTE for cloud based connectivity. Imagine you are driving a car and the vehicle ahead of you suddenly stops due to an accident. Liquid application based network will communicate between the sensors installed in the two cars and send a signal to your car to immediately brake.

Do you see traditional telecom players moving beyond just connectivity to offering solutions?

Operators will have to go beyond connectivity. Connectivity is the basic requirement for programmable world. Ultimately telcos will target verticals like healthcare, smart metering and connected cars.

How do you see the resolution of the tax dispute over the Chennai plant?

We are working on de-freezing the asset. We have good, strong buyers. I am confident that both of these things will happen in the not-too-distant future. If we get this world class plant in the right hands, it will have a positive impact on the entire ‘Make in India’ programme

When do we see Nokia devices in India?

We have a lock-in agreement with Microsoft so we cannot do smartphones till next year. But there’s a lot of interest especially since the tablets was launched. We need to do this in a considered and thoughtful way. We want to think through our partnerships but we definitely want to capitalise on the brand strength.

Do you see consolidation in the network space?

We want to do bolt-on-acquisition, which gives us disruptive technologies or an acquisition that’s gives us proximity to clients. For example, the acquisition of Panasonic took us closer to DoCoMo in Japan. The market has been consolidating. In the old days less than 70 per cent of the market share was with the top players. Now it’s 80 per cent. So market forces are consolidating the market.

There is a lot of concern about telecom network security and snooping. Is that worry?

In the programmable world security will be much more relevant. We have initiated a security centre in Berlin because it is very important to demonstrate all our product solutions. 4G is little more vulnerable than 3G because it is more IP based. So you need to have higher levels of encryption. We have a separate business line on security.

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