Nokia votes “No Confidence” in their US marketing team

Nokia launched the newest edition to it’s N Series lineup, the N95, for European 3G networks last year. A non 3G device also called the N95 was available in the US and much tauted during theiPhone launch as an answer to Apple’s ground breaking mobile device. Many Nokia fanboys and fangirls explained how the N95 was superior including it’s 3G speed. And similar statements were made by Nokian’s themselves. The truth is that the N95 as presented in the US also worked on the slower Edge data network. Now, the FCC has approved a variant of Nokia’s N95 which will work on ATT’s US 3G HSDPA network with a clever new name, N95-3. The launch party is set, but there will be no lines of eager enthusiasts as was witnessed with the iPhone, because the launch of this new US market device will occur in London.

It’s unclear why Nokia would not launch this device from a US city. They have Flagship stores in New York and Chicago where a launch event could be staged. Apparently, they feel that a launch in London will receive more attention. For that to be true, Nokia must also believe that their US marketing team (they do have one right?) isn’t up to the job. Ouch! Of course, Nokia doesn’t have much success to point to in the US market as they’ve missed every major trend for handsets here. Nokia has the growing reputation of not listening to the market, but who can argue with their 35% global market share?

History of Nokia Failures in the US Market

Clamshell Design

It has been very clear since the mid 1990s with the popularity of the Motorola StarTac that US consumers are in love with the clamshell form factor. I owned one. And who didn’t recognize the StarTac influence on Motorola’s more recent phenom phone, the Razr. Nokia’s response to the StarTac was belligerent with their CEO proclaiming that the candy bar form was superior and Nokia would never make clamshells. Their response to the Razr on the other hand was the N76. It comes very late as the Razr craze has ended and somehow Nokia known for utilitarian design managed to make a Razr look clunky.

Motorola StarTacMotorola Razr Nokia N73 mobile phone

QWERTY Keyboard

Another trend in the US market has been the desire for QWERTY thumb keyboards used to compose email, and driven in large part by the success of Blackberry. Nokia avoided QWERTY in favor of the phone dialpad keys despite the success of Blackberry and Treo which dominated the early US smartphone market. Only recently has Nokia acquiesced on this feature with the E62, a stripped down version of the E61i.

3G on US Frequencies

Nokia’s N95 debuted in Europe early 2007, and it looks as though they plan to make the US holiday season with a US 3G HSPDA model of the N95. The issue here is that 3G frequencies in the US and Europe are different. In Europe, 3G operates at 2100 MHz and in the US the frequenices are (ATT) 1900, 950 and (T-mobile) 1700 MHz. So a 3G phone isn’t a 3G phone everywhere. The fact that the promise of WCDMA was suppose to be global interoperability apparently died a cruel death on the sword of competitive advantage. But that’s a story for another time. The bottom line is that Nokia releases phones on European frequencies about a year before they appear in the US market.

Incoming CEO OPK declarations

Despite Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo’s declarations during his initial press conferences in 2006, as the new CEO of Nokia, results haven’t demonstrated Nokia’s focus on the US market. In fact, Nokia handset sales in North America from Q1 2006 to Q1 2007 fell by 50%. This also the period during which Nokia exited it’s CDMA handset business.

CDMA Devices

One reality of the US market is the coexistence of two network technologies, GSM and CDMA. CDMA networks used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint were the first to market with 3G speed and services. Nokia has an institutional dysfunction with the implications of serving CDMA carriers. First, their abhorrence with customizing devices per operator requirements, and second, their long-standing licensing war with Qualcomm. This dysfunction caused Nokia to exit the partnership they built with Sharp to deliver CDMA devices for the US

Some have suggested that Nokia’s abandoning the higher margin US CDMA market for low margin entry handsets in India and China was a serious miscalculation. But as I’ve said, the dysfunction on this point is institutional. A member of S60’s marketing team explained about two weeks ago that the narrative inside Nokia for the US market goes something like this: We have 800 million customers outside the US and only 4 customers inside the US.

Obviously, this isn’t a true statement. There are many European Nokia devices that are imported to the US, along with newly enabled direct sales, new channels forming like, and of course, the 4 referenced by the narrative, the US wireless carriers. However, trapped inside their narrative, Nokia does not appear able to evaluate the US market objectively. Perhaps Nokia should just fold up tents and exit.

iPhone Launch

The iPhone is listed as a Nokia failure in the US market, because given the long advance notice and the media buildup to Apple’s iPhone launch, Nokia marketing in the US fell flat. There was no competitive response that has registered here from the company. The best competitive response has come from the Nokia enthusiast blogosphere. Even the blogosphere missed the mark.

A feature by feature comparison of the N95 to the iPhone is nonsense. There was much made of the iPhone’s lack of 3G support which – I love irony – is astonishing given the US version of the N95 was also not 3G. And contrary to many reports from Europe, the US has a number of 3G devices. It’s just that they aren’t made by Nokia.

Given all these failures in the US market, and the focus of Nokia on the N95 as their competitive response to the iPhone, why isn’t the US 3G HSDPA version launched from a US city?

Apparently, Nokia has scheduled it’s annual Launch Event, and it’s in London on August 29th. The Launch website is intentionally cryptic and game like – hint, hint. So whether it’s convenience or tradition or short-sightedness, check the tubes in two days for the story on what Nokia reveals. Even, a simul-launch, events in both London and New York, would have been a good idea. Nokia does have a US marketing team, don’t they? It’s truly difficult to tell.

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