Mobile World Congress and Nokia's absence

News that Nokia wouldn't be attending this week's Mobile World Congress came as a surprise considering the huge presence the company has had at this event stretching back many years.

But, upon reflection, given its lacklustre product portfolio and confused strategy, the company would have been on the defence for the entire period of the exhibition, so it is no real bombshell that it took the brave decision to decamp to a nearby hotel.

The company is also thought, according to rumours circulating late last week, to have made another decision--no handset announcements. Another first for Nokia which does leave the door wide open to its main rivals Samsung, RIM and Apple--although Apple seems immune to the buzz surrounding MWC and loftily chooses to ignore the event.

The reason, supposedly, for no new handsets is that Nokia wants to focus its PR budget on raising the profile of its service business. This would fit with CEO Kallasvuo's effort to transition Nokia from a pure handset maker to a company offering customers paid applications and media on its devices.

Given Nokia's rushed launch of its Ovi Store service and the poor consumer reception to Comes With Music, this emphasis on services might look a high risk strategy--but does the company have an option?

However, other observers are adamant that Nokia will--or needs to--launch handsets addressing the low-cost Qwerty and touch segment into the market as soon as possible. The argument goes that, unless the Finnish company reacts to Samsung and LG in the €50 to €150 price range its market share will decline.

But perhaps the company has a longer term view of where its future revenues will come from--and this is not slugging it out at the bottom of the handset market.

Added altogether this could mark a turning point for Nokia--perhaps it's not worried about being the biggest handset vendor, but becoming an end-to-end services player. If correct, then mobile operators should be worried.

By the way, the fact that LG also has pulled out of MWC--blaming the competition for using the event to take photos of their latest handset--is no more than slightly amusing.-Paul