Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri comes across smooth and polished — so much so that you can picture him as a James Bond villain. After his pre-Mobile World Congress talk Sunday night, I half expected him to climb into an escape sphere and jettison off to his underwater lair.
Granted, a lot of that impression is just the effect his British accent has on my American ears. But Suri does have a grand plan underway. Not an evil one (we sure hope not, anyway) but one where Nokia, a company that’s been under fire for the past couple of years, is coming out swinging and angling for growth.
“Our success in restructuring and repositioning is well known by now, but to us, that is in the past,” he said. “We are now in a position that we have never been in before — still lean, still hungry, but with strength in our portfolio and roadmaps that we have never had at any point in our history.”
The “programmable world” is the target, Suri said; that’s the phrase Nokia is using to generally describe the changes it sees unfolding in networking, the cloud, big data, the Internet of Things, and even radios.
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Suri became CEO in May, after a long, hard run that included a massive restructuring initiated by then-CEO Stephen Elop in 2011. Elop also inked a partnership with Microsoft that eventually led to the Redmond, Wash. company buying Nokia’s once-mighty cellphone business late in 2013.
Suri oversaw the division of Nokia into three groups: Nokia Networks, Nokia Technologies, and HERE (a location-based services unit). Combined, the three saw flat revenues in 2014 compared to 2013. Nokia Technologies grew 9 percent to $578 million in revenue for the year, while HERE grew 6 percent to $969 million — but both were dwarfed by Nokia Networks, which shrank 1 percent to $11.2 billion.
Nokia did finish the year strongly, though. Fourth-quarter 2014 revenues were $3.8 billion with an operating profit of $454 million, compared with revenues of $3.5 billion and operating profit of $274 million for the same quarter a year earlier.
The signs are apparently good enough for Nokia to declare an expansion drive. “We have shown we can grow and protect profitability, and now we want more,” Suri said.
Accomplishments lately in Networks (which is the area most relevant to Mobile World Congress and therefore got the most attention in Suri’s talk) include work on a cloud-based radio access network (RAN); security for the cloud and for the Internet of Things (IoT); and a pilot of 5G networking for IoT.
The Internet of Things and analytics are two of the areas Nokia has targeted for its expansion. On the latter front, the company last night announced a product called predictive marketing, which is aimed at mobile services. It’s a way to get better customer response by doing things such as automatically personalizing special offers, Suri said.
But he also sees Nokia playing a role in the telco transition to cloud networks and software-defined networking (SDN). As more of the telecom business shifts to software and IT-like tools for the cloud, it plays to Nokia’s advantage, Suri argued, because Nokia can infuse its data-center offerings with expertise in carriers’ heavy, real-time requirements.
“We actually see the transition to the cloud as less of a threat that IT players will disrupt our market and more as an opportunity for us to disrupt theirs,” he said.
Suri’s most dynamic moments came later on, when he was asked to clarify that statement. That led to a flurry of opinions about data center and cloud opportunities in general. He briefly mentioned, without elaboration, that Nokia could become a player in orchestration, a technology it doesn’t have today, and that the company has the talent to “disrupt software-defined networking as we know it today.”
And he noted that routers, as a business, could be upended “by the Internet players and ultimately by the operators” — a seeming nod to the potential of white box equipment.
MWC Disclosure: Craig Matsumoto was rejected for a Mobile World Congress press pass. He is attending MWC 2015 on a pass supplied by Brocade and plans to use the Ericsson stand as an ersatz press room.