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Finland: Still connecting people

Finland’s most famous name may no longer be a global leader in mobile phones, but the 152-year-old company is far from dormant

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A man views demo content captured on Nokia’s OZO, a 360-degree VR camera
GN Focus

At the height of its mobile powers in 2000, Nokia accounted for 21 per cent of Finland’s export market and an astonishing 4 per cent of the country’s GDP. In 1998, the company became the world’s leading smartphone manufacturer, having produced in excess of 100 million units.

In 2007, however, a certain Steve Jobs unveiled a new concept called the iPhone and we all know what happened next. Following Jobs’ famous keynote in San Francisco, Nokia’s descent was swift. From dominating the market with a 49.4 per cent share, in just three years this figure had dropped to 34.2 per cent.
By 2014, the former titan sold off its mobile business to Microsoft, which planned to use the Nokia brand as a platform for its ill-fated Windows Phones. 

“"The amount of data in [global] networks is increasing by about
50 per cent a year."”
-Lauri Oksanen, Vice-President, Research and Technology, Nokia
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Although the 2000s were indeed a tumultuous period for Nokia’s handset business, the company is hardly unfamiliar with change. Founded in 1865, Nokia was initially a pulp mill before moving into rubber production. In fact, Finns still proudly wear their rubber Nokia boots when they head to national parks for weekend recreation.

Despite its decline in the handset business, the Nokia story is far from concluded. In April 2016, Nokia purchased Withings for $191 million (Dh702 million). The connected healthcare device maker was indicative of the company’s new direction.

Speaking in September, Lauri Oksanen, Nokia’s Vice-President of Research and Technology, explained that the company is worth $25 billion and is now 90 per cent a communications company, which also works in the fields of health, virtual reality and cloud services. 

One of the areas of communications where Nokia is investing is 5G mobile networks, which Oksanen believes will revolutionise the way we live and work. “We call 5G the fourth industrial revolution. Overall, we have had three big industrial revolutions before. First was the invention of the steam engine, which was the first time that mankind invented and started using something more powerful than animals, which enabled automobiles, factories and mass production.

"The second revolution was about materials, such as refining oils and refining metals. Plastics were invented, allowing entirely new categories of products. It was really about materials.” 

Oksanen points to the extreme speed at which the world’s consumption of data is accelerating as a reason for faster and larger capacities of connectivity. “The amount of data in the world’s networks is increasing by around 50 per cent every year globally. No other industry in the world is growing that fast.” 

As technology further infiltrates the fabric of our lives, from connecting our homes’ heating systems to driving our cars, Oksanen only sees more growth in the sector. “There are about 7.5 billion people on earth and this spring, we passed a point where there were more than 7.5 billion connections to the mobile networks in the world, so there are now more connections to mobile networks than there are people on earth,” he says. 

In a world where only five billion have access to mobile phones, the market still has the potential to absorb anther 2.5 billion users before it reaches saturation.
With such large amounts of digital data flowing around our lives, not only is expanding and accelerating connectivity important but Oksanen also says the capacity to effectively analyse the data is equally important.

“With all these new sensors, we will also need new analytics because we will need to be able to analyse all of the data coming through those sensors — whether they’re energy sensors, water sensors, air quality sensors, traffic sensors, so that we can make things more efficient. That’s what the fourth revolution is about — it’s making life more efficient so that we will have more time to do important things.”

Introducing OZO

In 2015, Nokia announced what it describes as the world’s best 360-degree virtual reality camera, which it christened OZO. The latest OZO+ features eight lenses with 195 degrees of vision, which captures 4K video at 30 frames per second. The device also features eight omnidirectional microphones. This tech has been utilised by film directors and for streaming sporting events as well as concerts. It’s also been used in operating theatres for medical training.

“This technology has both commercial and professional uses,” explains Oksanen. “In a factory, when something is wrong, a person with VR equipment can take a detailed look at the pump and see what is wrong there and fix it. It can also be used for teaching, where the person can see not only the part but also a demonstration of where to put the part and how to install it.”

Regional impact

With around 100,000 employees across the world, Nokia operates in a number of markets, including here in the GCC. “We deliver networks to many operators in the Gulf countries and we have been working with self-flying drones in Dubai,” says Oksanen. “We believe that self-flying drones will be used for many things, such as delivering packages, monitoring traffic and helping in emergencies. For example, in Finland, drones are used by the fire brigade. There will be many flying around, so we have been working on how to control the traffic.”

Looking to new markets

Nokia may no longer sit atop the handset tree but you can buy one of its smartphones operating on Android software. HMD Global, a company formed mostly from previous Nokia employees, has the licence for the brand and relevant intellectual properties and is aiming to compete with the likes of Samsung to win back market share in the lucrative smartphone business. Oksanen, however, believes that Nokia made the right decision to discontinue manufacturing handsets.

“It is a big market and some people are earning lots of money but we believe that it’s very competitive and that the market is served well by those existing companies. But there are new markets, such as consumer healthcare and professional healthcare, where other devices are required and where there is much more need and openness for innovation.”

HEALTHCARE

Nokia’s ventures into the healthcare market has seen the company use its technological expertise to bring some beautifully designed products to the market. From its ultra-portable wireless BPM+ blood pressure monitor, which can connect people’s health data to smartphones of healthcare professionals or family members, to its smart weighing scales, which can monitor not only weight but also BMI and heart rate, it’s clear the Finnish company is keen to maintain a foothold in the consumer market.

Nevertheless, perhaps the most intriguing product is its new smartwatch. Unlike the Apple Watch, Nokia’s design is simple, understated and feels and looks like a traditional analogue watch. As with other smartwatches, it can receive text and call alerts, but Nokia seems more interested in pushing the device’s health credentials, where users can check on information including their heart rate, sleep, number of steps and calories burned. Unlike the Apple Watch, Nokia’s device also has a battery life of 25 days.

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