Takeaways from Nokia's latest CDMA handset


Takeaways from Nokia's latest CDMA handset

This week Nokia unveiled a new CDMA handset, the Nokia 2135, which is set to launch in the U.S. this fall. The announcement created a mild stir among those following Nokia's latest moves in the U.S. More than a year ago Nokia announced it would scrap its months-old joint venture with Sanyo to build their own CDMA handsets. By April of 2007, the company said, it would have scaled back its CDMA R&D and manufacturing. It planned to only participate in key CDMA markets, like North America.

The Nokia 2135 points to what Nokia meant last year by "participate." The 2135 is the result of a traditional ODM deal, according to Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak. "We're not doing R&D in CDMA anymore, but all the CDMA products moving forward will have a Nokia design and UI. Manufacturing and engineering of these products will be done by an ODM partner," Nowak said. "We'll be using the traditional ODM model, except the phone really will look and feel like Nokia phones since they will have our UI and design."

While other media outlets have been reporting Nokia's CDMA comeback, the 2135 unveiling is really just a reminder that the business never fully went away, which was the plan all along. Nokia's press release regarding the split with Sanyo pointed to "an already financially prohibitive CDMA ecosystem" and a "more challenging" than expected CDMA opportunity in emerging markets. But Nokia said it would still have a "special focus" on North America.

The Finnish company's real CDMA surprise came last September when it announced plans to sell a cheap CDMA handset in India for $43, its lowest priced handset globally at the time. Nokia teamed with Reliance Communications to push the device. Few balked at the handset maker's about-face then.

So why is a simple handset, that's most prominent feature is a phonebook that can hold 400 contacts, gaining so much attention? Well, does that cost prohibitive comment above refer to Qualcomm? Does going the ODM channel help Nokia avoid the patent dispute brouhaha? Or is Nokia just doing what it said it would all along: Have a special focus on the North American CDMA market. Namely, a voice-centric, affordable handset that doesn't involve a struggling rival or draw out the legal team of another chipset maker. -Brian