Nokia Says North American Efforts Are Working

Nokia's efforts to improve its fortunes in the U.S. are finally starting to pay off, the head of the company's North American sector said at the CTIA conference in Las Vegas on Thursday.

The world's largest mobile phone maker has a tiny market share in the U.S. and the company says it knows why. "The one size fits all approach doesn't lend itself well here," said Mark Louison, president for Nokia in North America. "In order to be successful here, and it's important to be successful here, we needed to take it on an operator by operator basis."

He said that Nokia had one approach to market and while that has worked well in most places, it clearly hasn't in the U.S. where the operators have a much heavier influence on the market than in other regions.

While Nokia once had a solid footing in the market, its share declined but not because of a change in strategy at the company. It's success was tied to a particular event in the industry and when that opportunity passed, so did Nokia's market share. That event was the introduction in the 1990s of AT&T Wireless' One Rate plan -- based on a Nokia phone -- that revolutionized the industry, spurring significant growth.

"Our success was about being aligned technically with a killer user application," Louison said. "That worked well for us. We had little market share and we built it up big. Then we tried to apply the one size approach as the market changed."

That clearly didn't work as the phone giant quickly lost market share. For the past couple of years Nokia has been talking a lot about investments it made to improve its fortunes in the U.S. but has had little to show for it. Some of the investments are around research facilities and a renewed effort to work closely with operators to customize devices to their needs. That process takes time, sometimes about two years, and is just now coming to fruition, Louison said.

"We're starting to see the first evidence of this new way of working," he said.

As evidence, he points to the recent introduction of the E71x with AT&T. The user interface is customized to AT&T's specifications. The phone was initially introduced in Europe.

"So the E71 is the evolution of a global product but you're starting to see products coming here first too," he said.

The recently introduced Verizon Intrigue is an example of a Nokia phone that is debuting in the U.S. That phone was also designed in close collaboration with Verizon, he said.

While it's not clear yet if efforts to tackle the U.S. market will prove successful, Nokia will need to sell handsets in the U.S. to do well with its Ovi application store. The store is set to launch in May and Nokia is hoping that it will spur renewed application development for its phones. "You need to be successful in North America for something like that because the leading apps will come from this market," Louison said.

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