Nokia (NYSE:NOK) has undergone a lot of changes over the past several years, but there is one thing that hasn't changed. The company can still tie its roots back to the original Finnish company that manufactured not phones but paper, tires and rubber boots.
While it's fundamentally a different company than it was even at the very beginning of this year, "I like to remind people, I now have the same email address that I had 21 years ago when I joined Nokia," Ricky Corker, executive vice president of Nokia Networks' North American business, told FierceWirelessTech.
That's true even as the company's networks division has seen more than a few ups and downs. At one point, the company was known as Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), a joint venture run by Nokia and Siemens. After Siemens left, it was an easy transition to Nokia Solutions Networks, at least in the logo department.
Its latest iteration comes after Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) acquired Nokia's device business in April. While it's no longer about handsets, the Nokia brand lives on in the Nokia group, which consists of Nokia Networks, the HERE navigation group and Nokia Technologies. The Technologies unit oversees the intellectual property rights (IPR) that the group retained; it's also focused on emerging and disruptive technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors and wearables.
One particularly fundamental change came when the board decided to divest certain assets, like microwave and optical, and focus on mobile broadband and associated services, so it sold those assets and acquired new ones.
The transformation appears to be paying off. Nokia Networks, which makes up about 90 percent of Nokia's revenues, achieved 13 percent year-on-year growth in net sales in the third quarter of 2014. T-Mobile US and Sprint are two of its largest North American customers.
Last month, Nokia announced the extension on the T-Mobile deal, under a new contract to help the operator continue the expansion of its LTE network, which began in 2012. Nokia Networks is providing LTE-Advanced equipment and services that cover new spectrum bands, as well as helping to improve coverage and capacity for in-building, highway and rural areas. The agreement also helps to expand the availability of T-Mobile's voice over LTE (VoLTE) service.
Generally speaking, the momentum that carrier aggregation and small cell deployments saw in 2014 will carry over into the next year, Corker said. "As we go forward, particularly in 2015, I think having the ability to aggregate capacity across different bands" using carrier aggregation will be in high demand, he said. In addition, "we see a lot of dialog about obviously managing costs and things like network functions virtualization, telco cloud, not just [around] the costs but speed of deploying new services," he said.
"There's a lot of discussion. We expect that to accelerate in 2015, and we start to see small cells become a more important part of the overall radio portfolio," he said. "We see a lot of activity in that space."
For Nokia, all of the advanced features in the macro cells are carried over into the small cells, "so it's a very advanced small cell," he said, adding that it's interoperable with other vendors as well. "We put a lot of investment in small cells. We see that as an important part of our portfolio. As a market, I don't think it has developed as quickly as we expected," due largely to the challenges of cost-effectively deploying the cells outdoors.
But he's optimistic those types of challenges will be overcome. "I expect as we move forward we'll start to see more small cells becoming prevalent in the networks," he said.
Some of Nokia's acquisitions will help it toward that end. In August, Nokia Networks completed the acquisition of Schaumburg, Ill.-based SAC Wireless, a wireless network equipment installation specialist. Prior to that, the company acquired Mesaplexx, which provides filter technology that can be used to reduce the size, weight and cost of active antenna or compact small-cell systems.
This marks Corker's second stint working for Nokia in North America. He previously led NSN's Asia-Pacific region and has held senior sales and marketing positions in Australia and Europe.
One of the big changes over the years has been narrowing the gap between network availability and handsets. There's much more close cooperation between the two nowadays, he said. Nowadays, most of the handset manufacturers do interoperability testing before devices get on the network so they can capture any potential issues before they happen.
"I think that's been a big change," he said. In some cases, handsets are getting the next generation technology before it's live in the networks. While it wasn't the case so much for the United States, in other parts of the world, LTE, for example, was in the handsets before the networks were ready.
Of course, one of the big missives going forward for Nokia Networks is to help its North American operator customers find new revenue streams, as well as ensuring the quality of their networks. Toward that end, Nokia has a large R&D presence in North America, he said. "We continue to invest heavily in North America," which was the fastest growing market for the company in the third quarter.
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