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Nokia Evaluating Hardware Partners for 2016 Reentry Into Phone Business

But even as it plots a 2016 return to the phone business, the company is willing to delay or jettison the effort if a suitable partner cannot be found.


Nokia is in the process of considering which hardware makers might prove worthy of licensing its name and phone designs as it seeks to reenter the phone business as early as next year.

As Re/code reported in April, the company has no plans to resurrect the manufacturing and sales apparatus it sold to Microsoft. Instead, the company hopes to use its design know-how and remaining brand cachet and let another company do that heavy lifting. Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri confirmed those plans in an interview with German business magazine, Manager Magazin.

“We will look for suitable partners,” Rajeev Suri said in the interview, according to Reuters. “Microsoft makes mobile phones. We would simply design them and then make the brand name available to license.”

In an interview on the sidelines of last month’s Code Conference, the head of the unit responsible for developing new products and managing the Nokia consumer brand said the trick is finding that right partner.

Ramzi Haidamus, president of Nokia Technologies, said that the company wants a true partner that will work with Nokia to make sure the products that bear its name reflect the image the company is looking to craft.

Though many outsiders have misunderstood the strategy, Nokia has been headed in this direction for a while. The company gave the strategy a test run with the N1, a Nokia-designed Android tablet made by a licensee and sold in China.

Moving into phones, though, would represent a significantly larger effort than was done with N1 so the company is taking its time to find a company to work with. Haidamus stressed that he is willing to forgo or delay the phone plan if the right partner can’t be found.

Under it’s deal with Microsoft, Nokia was prohibited from licensing its brand for phones until next year, though apparently Microsoft forgot to include tablets — allowing the company to make the N1.

Nokia Technologies, the unit that would be responsible for the phone effort, is the smallest of the three businesses that remained with the company after it sold its handset business to Microsoft. In addition to licensing the Nokia name for use in consumer products, Nokia Technologies is also responsible for licensing the company’s trove of patents and creating new categories of products. Several projects, including ones in imaging and virtual reality, are currently in process, sources said.

The largest part of the remaining Nokia is its network equipment business, which makes the gear carriers need to run their operations. Nokia Networks is in the process of acquiring rival Alcatel-Lucent, a move designed to help it better compete against Ericsson and Huawei.

Its third unit is its Berlin-based Here mapping unit, though Nokia is currently soliciting bids as it weighs exiting that business. Among those said to be interested are Uber and a coalition of European automakers. Asked if he had a preference, Suri told the German magazine: “Anybody who can improve the business in the long run is a good buyer.”

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