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I've been following Nokia for the past two years and watched the two documentaries about them (they are similar; one has more Finnish). [1] [2]

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?)

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5654050/

[2] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8717008/

On point 3, the car navigation systems and map data were a separate division called Here. Microsoft wanted to buy it together with the mobile phones, but Nokia held out for a better price, and finally sold Here in 2015 to a consortium of Audi, Daimler and BMW for about $3B USD.

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.

an interesting anecdote on the pessimism aspect.

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 often wonder is it really pessimism though?

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.

> the belief that pessimism wins out in the long run

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.

>They can become a major player in 5G for Europe.

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.

I will always post this when it comes up. Nokia didn't die because Symbian was weak, Nokia died because of the Burning Platform Memo: https://www.engadget.com/2011-02-08-nokia-ceo-stephen-elop-r....

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.

As someone who has been a customer once and a near-customer another time (both times on fixed line and wireless network tech), Nokia has fantastic, properly brilliant hardware, and middling software (though moving in the right direction - they're moving to open interfaces, NETCONF on hardware rather than just NBIs on big opaque NMSes they charge a fortune for, etc), and an utterly useless and highly expensive services division they could do well to lose.

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.

> 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.

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)

Having worked with Nokia Networks as a customer on Wireless core networks, I don't believe some of these conclusions are safe.

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.

Which ones did you enjoyed? I work for an euro telco and we have vendors all over the place, nokia, ericsson, huawei... I work with some (many) software abstraction layers but the few times I had to interact with equipment directly I found Alcatel to be the most difficult.

Anyway the whole space looks obscure and full of propietary solutions.

In it's heyday Starent equipment was excellent, but I don't think it's as good since Cisco bought them. So for MME's, S/P-GW's, etc I would use again. This was the standard that I tried to hold the other vendors to on support, upgradeability, configuration, etc. The OAM / support systems were pretty weak, but our team just didn't bother to use them, and the built in tools were better.

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.

> 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.

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.

Yep, MeeGo Harmattan was the original plan for replacing Symbian. Probably could have made it but they would have needed a partner (HP/Palm?).
Some terms are like voodoo for me as I am not familiar with telcom infrastructure. I found this site helpful to explain the terms at least.


Not yet sure what to make of it but it sounds pretty good. If we had open standards between components, maybe we could audit proprietary modules to a better degree.

My reading is that it is not that much about open standards between components (which are supposed to be somewhat open and interoperable already), but about open and vendor-neutral OAM interfaces.
5G is definitely changing the way cell networks are built although traditional towers are still a part of this. my understanding is that traditional towers will operate on spectrum that reaches out for miles like a traditional tower, while the smaller towers built on lampposts and street corners will be operating on higher bandwidth spectrum that doesn't reach as far, requiring more small towers in densely populated areas. open RANs are the key to making sure all the operators can use existing infra instead of overbuilding each other. sure we'll have a ton of small 5g towers in dense areas, but imagine how many towers would be installed if individual telecoms had to build their own networks.
It really is becoming a public utility and should be treated as such by government and business. The original concept for "cellular division" for higher density bandwidth is why we call them cell towers in the first place.
5G spectrum covers low-band and-mid band spectrum from 1G through 4G LTE frequencies. Then there is this new high-band. First 5G installations are deployed into new high-band.

5G installations in the countryside will be low band that is more efficient than 4G/LTE. You can have _less_ base stations than LTE, not more in the low-band. 5G NR is more efficient radio interface in all bandwidths.

That is not true. T-Mobile has Release 15 5G deployed in the 600 MHz band right now -- I'm looking at being broadcast over-the-air on my spectrum analyzer here in the south eastern US.
I don't think operators aim at sharing their networks in general.

The point is rather to have generic interfaces so that operators can mix and match vendors and have generic hardware with more functionality and intelligence moved to software (running on generic cloud instances).

This is interesting considering the direction standards/advisory bodies like TM Forum have been heading into. The telco industry was always big on standardisation, but paradoxically interop was a constant challenge when I was working in 3G rollouts...
Indeed - standardisation is adopted as it helps drive more handset sales and stimulate consumer demand. But standardisation is eschewed even in 4G and 5G when it comes to the equipment deployment - everyone is trying to build their "moat" of proprietary features to make you want to only deploy their radios in a given area (or ideally the whole network).

Automatic neighbour detection and cross-eNB resource block coordination are 2 that spring to mind which I think you lose in 4G if you don't go with a single-vendor approach. And good luck actually getting rival radio vendors to talk X2 to each other nicely...

What incentive do lower cost manufacturers have to cooperate with this?
Unless this adds significant costs to the hardware, I would think lower cost manufacturers would embrace this, as it allows operators to say “let’s buy a few of those cheaper ones to see how they fare”, whereas nowadays, they would have to switch a significant part of their network over to hardware they may not fully trust.

Interoperability, in general, is good for smaller or cheaper players. As a corollary, this announcement made me think Nokia must be a small player in this market.

Operators are likely to demand this feature.

Previously, they'd usually prefer a 'monoculture' so it's all or nothing for lower cost manufacturers at the time when an operator rolls out their network or a new generation of it, and an extreme barrier of entry for a new manufacturer.

Cooperating could enable a lower cost manufacturer to sell hardware to operators that otherwise would not even consider them due to compatibility issues with their existing gear.

It would allow them to spend less time designing an entire software ecosystem, for one.

Sort of like OpenDaylight https://www.opendaylight.org

Given that wireless equipment vendors already have an existing system, I can’t imagine that the marginal cost of maintaining it outweighs the benefits of vendor lock-in. ... unless I'm missing something about the economics of the situation.

Edit: I see now -- from another link in this section, it sounds like this may be beneficial for the growth of smaller niche players who have tiny market share.