HMD Global has big plans for Nokia in Africa
Finnish company HMD Global, which makes and sells mobile phones under the Nokia brand, wants to make Nokia the third-biggest smartphone company in Africa and globally, the firm’s management team in SA says.
HMD is a latecomer to the smartphone market. It started selling Nokia smartphones in 2017 after buying the licence for Nokia’s phones and tablets from Microsoft in 2016.
Its competitors have been in the game for much longer. According to data from research and advisory firm Gartner, Samsung, Apple and Huawei hold the top three places respectively in the global smartphones market.
"Our view, in terms of the positioning of the company, is that it’s the second chapter… We never went away, we were always there in some shape or form – significantly so in feature phones – but the real [opportunity] for us is to start winning in the smartphone space," said HMD GM for southern Africa Shaun Durandt.
The company, which shipped 70-million units globally by the end of 2017, aimed to win market share by prioritising affordability, Durandt said.
While HMD had to work through "teething problems" in all markets in early 2017, he said "Christmas was massively successful and that set up 2018 in a … positive way".
HMD started with mid-tier smartphones before pushing into the premium and low-end categories. It launched its entry-level-priced Nokia 1 smartphone in SA last week and will sell the model through mobile operators Cell C, MTN and Vodacom.
"We want to position the Nokia 1 as a premium device in the R1,000 category," said Justin Maier, vice-president of HMD for sub-Saharan Africa.
Maier said the affordable devices segment "is a really important segment for us to play in across Africa".
However, the company faced strong competition in that segment from Chinese brands including ZTE and Tecno Mobile. But while these brands had gained traction elsewhere in Africa, they had not gained a meaningful foothold in SA.
Meanwhile, feature phones remained an important focus for HMD, as the market for these more basic phones "is still huge", Maier said.
The company relaunched the Nokia 3310 brand early in 2017. Sales were largely being driven by brand affinity and a partial shift away from smartphones, Maier said.
HMD was yet to make use of its licence to make Nokia tablets, as new smartphones were eating into the tablets market, Maier said.