Putting the fun back into European telecoms

For a building that housed a workforce of 2,000 people, Nokia House in Espoo, a city just on the fringes of Helsinki, always had a surprisingly hushed quality, perhaps due in part to the building's glass and chrome structure that has two towering atriums at its core.

The building is probably particularly quiet today after news that the lease for this landmark building will soon be handed over to Microsoft as part of the sale of Nokia's devices and services unit. That deal got the approval of Nokia shareholders this week and is expected to formally close in the first quarter of 2014.

"As the majority of employees currently working at our corporate headquarters are focused on Devices & Services activities and support functions, Nokia House will become a Microsoft site once the deal closes," Nokia said in a statement.

As a journalist I was a regular visitor to Nokia's Espoo headquarters and witnessed a number of new launches and changes over the years--the most notable from my perspective being the merger between Nokia Networks and Siemens' carrier networks business in 2006 and 2007.

As we all now know, that merger did not really work out and Nokia has now taken the networks business back into its fold and renamed it Nokia Solutions and Networks. Now, NSN represents a key part of Nokia's future and apparently will continue to operate in the company's central Helsinki location, called the Karaportti campus, along with Nokia's mapping and other activities. "Part of the interiors of the Nokia-owned office buildings in Karaportti are currently being renovated," Nokia added.

Indeed, networks have proved to be Nokia's saviour in a way that perhaps many would not have predicted in the past: Nokia was strongly associated with mobile phones well before the iPhone was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, and it was always hard to imagine a Nokia without phones. However, Nokia is also accomplished at accommodating significant change; its 150-year history attests to that fact.

The Finnish company will also no doubt have taken heart from the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference held in Barcelona this past week. Although some of the reports from the event at times sound like excerpts from a Benny Hill script, with Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao boasting about his "beautiful assets," Vodafone's intention to maintain high levels of investment in its networks will be music to the ears of Ericsson, NSN, Alcatel-Lucent and other equipment providers and vendors. Indeed, Ericsson CFO Jan Frykhammar sounded pretty excited about the future prospects for manufacturers, even saying it could actually be "fun" to be a vendor and an investor in Europe if investment levels start to match those seen in the U.S. market in recent years.

That would certainly make a change for Europe's somewhat frazzled equipment manufacturers. Although Frykhammar warned that "we are not there yet," Vodafone's plans to boost network investment bring a welcome fillip to the market and could even incite rivals to follow its example.--Anne