The past year has been eventful, to say the least, for Nokia Siemens Networks. Laying off employees, selling off businesses and constantly readjusting the business plan to, well, remain in business. The company is doing much better financially, and I can't help but be fascinated by the progress it has made.
Part of the reason for the intrigue is that I didn't think NSN had much of a prayer a year ago. Prior to 2012's Mobile World Congress, rumors abounded that NSN's CEO Rajeev Suri was about to be let go. The company had embarked on a bold and quite controversial strategy months earlier in November 2011, when Suri announced a massive restructuring that would focus primarily on developing NSN's mobile broadband business in three top tech markets: Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Well, Suri is still at the helm of NSN, steering it through choppy waters and seeing early successes from the restructuring effort.
Also still at NSN is Rick Corker, who heads the company's North American operations. When I met Corker at last year's MWC, he had been in that role for about 10 months; I had been editing FierceBroadbandWireless for about two weeks. Corker emphasized to me how important the U.S. market had become to NSN as I was thinking something along the lines of "good luck with that."
But then came T-Mobile USA's network modernization and LTE rollout project, and NSN and rival Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) scored humongous infrastructure contracts. NSN even got US Cellular (NYSE:USM) to admit that it was using NSN infrastructure in some of its LTE markets as well. That's not a bad showing for the past year.
But now rumors abound regarding potential changes in NSN's ownership structure. One reported possibility is that Nokia might buy out Siemens' 50 percent stake in the company along with a strategic partner such as Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU).
So when I got the chance to speak with Corker last week in Barcelona, I asked him how those reports impact NSN's efforts to grow in North America. He replied that operators aren't terribly concerned about the rumors. "What's important for operators is that we've been able to demonstrate our sustainability as a company," he said.
"The feedback we get now is that they're much more comfortable now that NSN has demonstrated through strong profitability and our focus around mobile broadband that we're a company that's going to be around for the long term. "There'll be three big players in this industry, and we'll be one of those three," said Corker, reiterating Suri's prediction from a press event earlier that week.
Time will tell how this really plays out. A recent report from Technology Business Research says NSN's long-term LTE prospects are uncertain, particularly as Japanese and South Korean operators wrap up their LTE network rollouts. In fact, the research firm suggests NSN will need to increase its focus on the U.S. market in order to boost LTE revenue. I suppose that means Corker could be a very busy man for the foreseeable future.
For more from my Mobile World Congress 2013 interview with NSN's Rick Corker, including his thoughts on snagging some LTE RAN business from AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), check out this On the Hot Seat feature.--Tammy
P.S.: Pick the winner. Who will be the top LTE infrastructure market share gainer for the full-year 2013? Vote in the poll on our home page.