Is Nokia Planning a Comeback?

nokia 3310 smartphone comeback phone
The Nokia 3310 was one of the most popular electronic devices of all time, selling 126 million units worldwide since its launch in 2000. The now-forgotten brand could rise again with new smartphones under licence to HMD Global. Creative Commons

In the year 2000—back when the most exciting thing about a mobile phone was the game Snake—Finnish firm Nokia was cleaning up. The company was worth twice as much as Finland’s entire GDP that year and would go on to hold more than 40 percent of the global handset market. Just over a decade later, Nokia did not even own a mobile phone business.

Nokia’s collapse was dramatic, even by tech company standards. Its failure to keep up with the pace of the mobile internet—which exploded with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007—meant that the company eventually sold its Mobile and Devices unit to Microsoft in April 2014. Today, Nokia is worth just over one tenth of what it was worth at the start of the millennium.

But 16 years after those heady days, Nokia once again has ambitions to dominate the mobile phone market. Last week, rumors emerged from a specialist Nokia blog that two new “high-end” Android smartphones are planned for release later this year. According to the Nokia Power User blog, the phones will come with a “premium metallic design,” and will have the “famous Nokia feel,” and will most likely go up against the likes of Apple and Samsung at the top of the smartphone ladder.

Whether or not these rumors are true, it is likely that we’ll be seeing Nokia smartphones in the near future. Only they won’t really be Nokia phones—not technically anyway.

In May, Nokia announced an exclusive 10-year licensing deal with HMD Global to create a new generation of Nokia-branded smartphones and tablets. At the same time, HMD Global also acquired the ex-Nokia featurephone unit from Microsoft for $350 million, allowing the new private equity-backed firm to build the Nokia-branded smartphones.

As part of the deal, HMD Global has access to much of Nokia’s intellectual property (IP) portfolio, such as patents and design expertise. According to Ian Fogg, a mobile analyst at IHS Technology, the goal is for the phones produced to be indistinguishable from what an actual Nokia phone would be.

“Nokia has put itself in a position where if HMD Global succeeds, Nokia will reap the rewards of an enhanced and rejuvenated brand,” Fogg tells Newsweek. “If HMD Global fails, Nokia doesn’t lose out financially and is able to distance itself from the venture.”

This low-risk approach may see Nokia reinvented to once again be a global force in the mobile phone market or could further compound the company’s reputation as a once-glorious has-been—either way, Nokia's comeback won't really be Nokia's. At least we’ll still have Snake.