My conclusions about them are this:
1. They can become a major player in 5G for Europe.
2. The places in Finland where they operated did not become ghost towns as you may have thought.
3. They are still very competent. In fact, when their mobile business was bought out by Microsoft, it appears that they were a leader in car navigation systems. Not sure if MS considered that when doing the takeover and not sure whether they took it over.
4. They have always been a telecom infrastructure player and become more so after the 2010–2012 fiasco. They were working on Linux derived OSs for phones. I always thought they tanked due to their marriage to Symbian and ignorance towards Android. I am not sure anymore; I have become more old school and like people that write their own code.
5. The Finns seem to blame hubris for their downfall. I think even without hubris, you can't really compete against countries with a lot of people and low wages.
6. Finland remains an awesome country. Their engineers are probably better than Germans, but they are 1/10th in number. (Sorry, I like to take on the Germans in a challenge. Maybe it's because they are actually something to take on?)
On point 6, as a Finn working in USA, I would add that the stereotypical Finnish engineer in my mind is someone very capable who believes their job is finding reasons to say “no” to ideas. This is a paradigmatic cultural difference from America where most people feign enthusiasm loosely. IMHO one of the things that holds Finland back is the belief that pessimism wins out in the long run.
As someone from another northern european country, "pessimism" seems to be a phenomenon that is very common in most western/northern european countries. People are critical about radical ideas (usually for good reason imo) and blind optimism makes you look like a fool.
I think they are more like "realism"? Not everything that is Anti optimism has to be pessimism. And it seems in modern world ( or in America ) both realism and pessimism are lumped together.
It's amazing when people that you have never met (I am not from Europe and haven't visited Finland) can think in the same way you do.
I have to add that I am a happy pessimist. I like to tell people how everything is a futile waste of time, but wait! It is a happy and possibly satisfying, innovating, discovering, enjoyable waste of time.
I mean there are only a few to choose from. Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, ZTE. You can ignore ZTE in almost all cases. Depending on countries relation with China and National Security, Huawei will most likely never get majority of the business, but they are very handy in price negotiation. Samsung is relatively new and does not provide a simple upgrade path from existing software and hardware they are also not on the short list for most.
Which means you are only really left with Ericsson and Nokia. And it will be a major player either way.
Their engineering division in terms of 5G RAN are also operating in France and US. ( Since it was a merger with Alcatel-Lucent ) So the excuses of there are less Finnish Engineers couldn't be used either.
My observation from the outside is that Nokia is lacking exceptional leadership and management to turn the ship around. They are sort of like IBM, they are still here, doing business, but not innovating enough to put them back where they once were. It took Ericsson a change of management and two years of reshuffle to compete with Huawei. Not because they were technically inferior, as Ericsson is possibly the best on the market, but they need to fight when your competitors is undercutting in price due to ( cough ) all sort of reasons. And so far Ericsson is doing quite well ( for now )
One could argue Nokia is also a victim of Intel 10nm fiasco. But Ericsson were also on the same boat and they seems to have dealt with it better.
Stephen Elop's memo told all of the organizations selling Nokia's hardware that they were End of Life'ing all of the devices on their shelves, which resulted in every point of sale pulling them. This created an insane revenue gap that ultimately forced the sale to Microsoft.
This is an excellent review of what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future: https://hbr.org/2012/12/how-to-anticipate-a-burning-platform.
Edit: Source: I was working at Cingular/AT&T at the time where we pulled all of the Symbian phones from the walls of our retail stores within days of this memo landing.
Big, national telcos don't need "services" divisions like that and the few I know of who are tied into Nokia are desperately trying to get away from the services arm and that usually involves losing the software/hardware too. They're so heavily tied into the sales pitch that it's nigh-impossible to just buy a box now. If the services arm were competent they'd have a chance but stuff like their network design and project management services are just flat-out incompetent.
Compare that to a lot of smaller players (e.g. Edge-Core, IP Infusion) who will ship hardware with open interfaces, may provide NMSes and element management systems etc but generally with open interfaces, and provide as much support as you want to pay for, and for most small and large telcos that's the way to go towards.
If I were running Nokia right now I'd be ditching the bulk of the services arm and taking what's good in there into support and engineering, pivoting as quickly as possible to adopt open standards and interfaces, and getting involved with things like the Telecoms Infrastructure Project, CORD, et. al.
Their hardware is fantastic but their software sabotages it. This isn't an uncommon pattern in telecoms per se; one might go so far as to call it the default position, especially these days where software is the key part of most fixed/cabled networks, given photonics is broadly standardised below and even at 400G outside of long-haul coherent stuff. Nokia however seem to manage to suffer much more from this than other vendors of kit.
Compare with companies like Adtran who have okay hardware, okay software, and are just dominating the entire EU XGS-PON market despite Nokia's desperate attempts to claim it; mostly this is down to TCO for the Nokia stack being a bit higher, and the whole services/support/software arm being so huge and unwieldy. You can buy a $20k line terminal but need $50k of software just to turn the damn thing on.
The navigation systems business was a separate entity. Like a third pillar of the company together with communication networks and mobiles. It was amalgamated from Berlin based startup Gate5 and Chicago based NAVTEQ. As a result Nokia N95 was the first (correct me?) smartphone on the market with navigation. Later on during the MS takeover they branched out as HERE.
source: I worked there (in here)
Although in concept I agree, they are and will continue to be a major player for the foreseeable future, I suspect some of your other conclusions may be conflating separate entities.
I don't know about area's becoming ghost towns, but I do know some areas have been impacted, and may be coming back with a startup culture that is up and coming. Overall I don't have good insight though. We had professional services come over from Finland in many instances, but as I recall all the product lines we were using were developed in other european countries and India. After the Alcatel-Lucent merger, they're also picking and choosing products to keep and killing off teams from what I've heard (or in some cases trying to merge products).
I don't think it's safe to assume what was sold to Microsoft carries over to other business units. The remaining networks business units were not part of what got sold off, and was already a conglomerate of mergers and acquisitions. I'm sure all business units have some compelling products however.
And I won't comment on the Finns or their country, I have absolutely no insight.
My experience with Nokia Networks equipment though (only indirect experience with RAN equipment), is in general it's not something I would want to choose to buy. Stood up against their competitors though with similarly rough solutions, it might still be the winner, but I know there will be lots of specific pain involved with Nokia's wireless products. The docs are rough, and things like upgrades are not really meant to be run by customers (Nokia commonly runs the networks for their customers, we had a different and more hands on culture). The configuration of the system is effectively managed by giant excel documents and obscure tools, leading to lots of lost/missing configuration updates, and a lack of source of authority in configuration data (upgrades use excel, running system uses local data). I'm slightly out of date and they've been promising to get rid of this forever, but that was the state of affairs a couple years ago and the last rumour I heard is it wasn't gone yet. With some of their competitors, we solved really obscure bugs, problems that affected 0.000001% of customers per day, with Nokia it was just so much harder and longer to solve any issues, I wouldn't even dream of being able to solve the rare problems.
What Nokia was good at, is when the product was running, it was fairly stable, so while operating it wasn't fun, the parts I worked with were stable, and seemed relatively well designed and high performance. With the mergers in the telecom industry, if you want one or just a few vendors, Nokia is a competent choice that you can build your entire network off of. The products I really enjoyed working with in the space though, none of them came from Nokia.
* My thoughts are my own, and do not reflect those of any current/former employer.
Anyway the whole space looks obscure and full of propietary solutions.
For DNS, infoblox appliances were good. Infoblox didn't have much experience with the GSMA DNS setup or carrier roaming, so they weren't well positioned to help us, but most the problems we had were with the GSMA specs and our partners being wonky, not Infoblox itself, so we managed to get through those issues on our own.
I never used in production, but we had Acme packet SBC's in our lab for awhile, which looked like they'd be great. But that's under Oracle's umbrella now, so probably something to avoid.
Our teams also really liked Tekelec for SS7 routing but I never used it myself. I looked at Tekelec's DRA and it looked like it was pretty good and well designed, but again it's Oracle now.
I don't have much direct experience with alcatel's stuff in production. I worked with them on a reseller agreement, so the resold equipment doesn't really reflect them, and doing some evals. Alcatel's CSCFs looked competent, but I think our PCRF team was really struggling from what I saw.
And yea, telecom is in that state, were it's jointly developed standards, but the implementations are very vendor driven. As an industry, the software all needs to be high performance, high capacity, and it's following millions of pages of standards, and then the add on's that the carriers want to do. I don't think there is much incentive for telecoms to go OSS on the telecom handling, although multiple vendors are starting to build off of OSS cloud native stuff. So it'll be interesting to see providers using kubernetes for example for a control plane and upgrades / capacity expansion. Or whether it's possible to integrate with an open tracing.
In my view, OSS for along time was way behind what the telco's were doing from a troubleshooting / high availability / services perspective. But the establishment of the CNCF and all the projects under that umbrella seem to be jumping over what telco's had as proprietary solutions. How those get merged in will be interesting to see.
This comment is based on my experience on the African continent. Nokia seemed to come out of nothing, beat everyone and then go back to being nothing.
In reality, they are more than 100 years old, started in the timber industry and now moved to telecom infrastructure rather than handsets.
If I mention the name "Nokia" then people will look at me blankly if they are younger than 20 but otherwise say: "Oh the great 3310!". So, the expectation was that there would be ghost towns.