‘Nokia looking closely at 4G feature-phone opportunity’

Varun Aggarwal Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on October 31, 2017


HMD Global unveiled its first budget smartphone, the Nokia 2, in India on Tuesday, marking its 11th product launch in just 11 months of existence. HMD is trying to rebuild the Nokia brand rapidly by initially reconnecting with consumers with the iconic Nokia 3310. In a conversation with BusinessLine, HMD Global’s newly-appointed CEO Florian Seiche spoke about how the company is looking at India as a market to showcase their brand capabilities to the world. He also indicated that Nokia is looking at a 4G feature phone, post RJio’s launch of the same. Edited excerpts:

How are you trying to recreate brand Nokia?

We want to build on some of the key attributes that Nokia has always stood for like the quality, simplicity. This is such a unique brand that we have. Even today when we ask customers what they like about Nokia they say it is the quality and simplicity. But also, beyond the product, it is the humanness brand attribute around Nokia, which is very strong. So, we try to tie into these attributes that Nokia stood for in the past. We are now trying to make these same attributes relevant for consumers today. We can already see that these are still fundamental attributes that resonate with the young consumers.

Nokia brand resonates highly with consumers above 30-35 years of age. Yet your branding activities are highly targeted towards the youth. Why is that so?

We are not excluding other people. We know we have many fans who know Nokia from before. But then if we look to the future, the main goal is to connect to the future generation and that’s where we’re putting a lot of our energy.

You’ve just formally taken over as HMD Global’s CEO. What are your goals for the company?

Short-term goal is to build out a portfolio like we have done today by launching Nokia 2. Even in this short time (of 11 months of HMD history), we’re covering some of the key price points with our smartphone range.

The other focus is to complete our regional expansion like in India we have local manufacturing, in Indonesia we started local manufacturing two months ago. We want to go step by step globally really deep with our channel partners. We currently have about 19,000 retail partners in India but we’ll expand that to one lakh by this year-end.

We are still ramping our reach to channel partners. Therefore, we are engaging deeply with our partners and we see a lot of opportunity.

On one end there are Chinese makers and on the other you have Apple and Samsung. Where does Nokia position itself?

We feel we have some unique foundations we can build our business model on. One of this is our Nokia brand which means we don’t have to raise in a similar way as other new entrants. If you are a new entrant then you have to establish yourself. You have no choice but to rush to get yourself as quickly as possible to get your name out in the market. We have the benefit of an established brand. So, we can be more thoughtful and take a step by step approach in how we build our strategy.

Secondly, we do have an existing feature phone business, which is a healthy stable foundation from an economical and business perspective. We have even managed in relatively short time to refresh and rejuvenate the product introductions we did this year. For example, Nokia 3310 was not only a marketing success but also a very good business success.

We’ve also refreshed our feature phone portfolio, which means we are actually growing in this segment. This also for us is a good foundation for smartphone growth but also a good foundation for our distribution and retail partners. The feature phone success means this is also success for them and will encourage them to invest in our smartphone range.

What are your views on Reliance Jio’s 4G feature phone launch? Are you planning to launch your own 4G feature phone?

Because we are so strong in feature phones, we are watching this very closely and we are also very excited about this opportunity.

But then we have nothing to announce at this stage. But we are looking very carefully at this opportunity.

Are you working on operator partnerships in India to bring down the upfront device cost?

We are certainly discussing with all the operators. Operator partnership has become more like a hygiene now. It’s become an integral part of the offering to the consumer. We are continuously in talks with operators but we are yet to finalise a partnership for Nokia 2. For Nokia 8, we had a RJio offering in the past.

At HTC, you partnered with Google to launch the first Google phone. Are you looking at extending those relationships with Google to launch a Google branded Nokia phone?

If you look at the 3 billion smartphones out there in the market, only a small part of the entire installed base is using the very latest experience. Therefore, Google would like to have more consumers using their latest Android version so they can really appreciate that Android experience.

In my HTC days, it was the very beginning of this. So the manufacturer had the opportunity but also consumers even expected some enhancements to make the overall experience very smooth. Today, it is very different. Google itself has already done that. So we create new partnership with Google to say across all the Nokia smartphone range, we’ll always offer the latest Android and we will even give the promise to keep it up to date. Therefore, they (Google) are very aligned with this vision and we are working with Google very closely to make this a great success for both of us.

Are you working on any India-specific products?

The reason we are here today is because Nokia 2 is a great product for India, which also provides a great global opportunity. But Nokia 2 has been designed with the Indian consumer in mind.

We have a technical team in India to work on product introductions. And now we also have a manufacturing team. We will expand further and invest in these areas. India is a very important and focus market for us. It is our best opportunity to show what we can do with Nokia. It is already the third largest market for us in terms of smartphone activations.

What were your learnings from Nokia’s past failures?

We are very blessed with the opportunity that we see now that we have the chance to build on the great love for the Nokia brand that still exists. And we are also recognizing the context of the mobile industry and therefore we are aligning with the strongest possible partnerships in all areas. Therefore, we believe Google is a great partner for us for mobile operating system and Foxconn is a great partner for us in terms of manufacturing and to help us reach a global scale very quickly.

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Published on October 31, 2017
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