A Nokia-Facebook combo is a no-brainer

Have mobile operators and handset vendors realized that their own brands just aren't that powerful in the mobile Internet world? Nokia hasn't, it seems.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Nokia and Facebook were in negotiations to forge a partnership that would embed elements of the social networking service in the handset giant's devices. When I read that far, I applauded Nokia for tapping the hottest Internet application around. (It has to be since I and at least all of my Facebook friends from various stages of my life waste countless hours on there.) Then I nearly choked on my morning tea when I read that the handset vendor is uncertain if it wants to team with an established web force like Facebook or build its own social network from scratch. What?

I know Nokia is trying to make itself into a mobile Internet services company, but it's becoming clear that the mobile industry's own mobile Internet initiatives simply can't compete against the established Internet brands like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and yes, Facebook. What makes Nokia think it is different? Consumers want to port the content and applications they are accustomed to on the fixed Internet onto the mobile Internet--not the other way around. We've already seen it on the mobile search side, where operators were once keen on keeping all of the mobile search traffic on their own portal. Now they have ceded control to the experts like Google and Microsoft, but still keeping their own search initiatives alive. Verizon last month made a deal with Microsoft to include the software giant's Live Search as the default search portal on its new mobile phones.

Emma Mohr-McClune, a Current Analysis principal analyst based in Germany, said during an interview with me that operators have now realized that they can grow the mobile data market much faster by offering access. It's clear that the customer just wants to mobilize their Internet experience. Operators' own mobile portals won't die, however, but they can't be the be-all, end-all, she aptly noted.

Nokia should also pay attention to this trend. While the handset vendor is coming up with some innovative services on its Ovi platform, it also needs to embrace those big names and popular applications on the Internet to grow its market. If Nokia believes it can offer a viable competitor to Facebook, which is aggressively boosting its own mobile presence, it grossly over-estimates its market power. --Lynnette