Author(s): Ben Wood
The US handset market continues to be dominated by the top wireless carriers, and if a handset brand doesn't make it into carrier channels, it's unlikely to make it big in the country. It's a fact that HMD Global knows well, and the company has clearly worked hard to get its smartphones into the line-up of the two largest carriers in the US.
Cricket Wireless, AT&T's prepaid sub-brand, is now selling the Nokia 3.1 Plus, a smartphone for the value-seeking segment of the market, priced at $160. The phone sports a six-inch display with a resolution of 720 x 1440 pixels, and ships with Android 9.0 Pie, running on a MediaTek chipset. It comes with 32GB of internal storage and has a microSD slot for storage expansion. It also features a dual-rear camera set-up with 13-megapixel and five-megapixel lenses.
Verizon will begin selling the Nokia 2 V smartphone from today. This is a prepaid entry phone with a 5.5-inch high-definition display, an eight-megapixel camera on the rear and a five-megapixel front camera. It offers 8GB of on-board storage. Pricing was not revealed for this phone, but the specifications point to competitive entry-level positioning.
Prepaid isn't the preferred channel for smartphone makers, but for HMD Global this is at least a foot in the door of the two largest wireless carriers in the US. The Chinese-backed Finnish company is now able to get the venerable Nokia brand onto store shelves, and this will be a test of how consumers respond to the devices.
During the past year, Nokia phones have been available on the open market in the US, unlocked and without operator affiliation. But this affords very limited exposure. The Nokia name hadn't been seen on carrier shelves since about 2014 when Microsoft owned the brand, and even in Nokia's heyday the US market was always a challenge. The company never achieved the levels of brand recognition and adoption seen virtually everywhere else in the world.
If these smartphones from HMD Global sell well, they could potentially open the door to other carriers ranging Nokia handsets. Ultimately, the company's goal must be to get its higher-end smartphones into the post-paid line-ups of the top wireless carriers.
HMD Global has done a good job of bringing the Nokia phone brand back to life so far. It's now hovering around being the 10th largest smartphone maker in the world, a sign that licensing the Nokia brand has been a successful strategy. There's no doubt that HMD Global is due a great deal of credit, but without the Nokia name, it's unlikely we'd be writing about the company today.
In addition to its efforts in the US, HMD Global is also tapping the red-hot Indian handset market that Nokia once ruled. An estimated 150 million smartphones were sold in India in 2018. HMD Global entered the market in 2017 and since then Nokia phones have enjoyed healthy growth there. The launch of several smartphones and feature phones from a highly recognizable brand that's synonymous with good quality and craftsmanship have helped Nokia gain market share in the country in a short span of less than two years.
The US market is an altogether more daunting challenge, and was always difficult for Nokia smartphones, whether they were Symbian or Windows Phone-based devices. The market is dominated by the big players, mainly Apple and Samsung, which together have about 70 percent of the market. It's going to be a tough journey for HMD Global, but future success demands scale and cracking the US can help the company achieve it.