Nokia Brings the Web to Emerging Markets
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Jack Ewing
Nokia executives have long maintained that customers in emerging markets will get on the Internet primarily through their mobile phones. On Nov. 4 the company announced a series of new devices and services designed to prove the assertion by extending the benefits of the Web to rural Indians, including crop information for farmers and mobile e-mail for people who don’t have access to a personal computer.
The Finnish handset maker helped pioneer the industry’s drive into emerging markets with rugged, low-cost mobile phones, turning China and India into its biggest markets. The new devices include Nokia’s lowest-cost handset to date, called the 1202, which will sell for about $32. But what could be most world-changing are new low-cost phones that include Web browsers and e-mail capability. For as little as $50, the 2320 Classic and 2323 Classic, which go on sale next year, will allow users to set up e-mail accounts directly from their mobile phones.
Nokia (NOK) already sells low-cost handsets that can access e-mail. But the new devices will allow users to set up an e-mail account on Nokia’s Ovi Web portal without ever going near a PC. That’s an important distinction for the millions of mobile-phone users who live in regions without reliable electricity, much less computers and Internet connections. “It gives those millions of users their first identity on the Internet,” says Alex Lambeek, Nokia vice-president in charge of handsets aimed at low-income users.
Leaping Ahead of Tech Rivals
If successful, the strategy also could give Nokia a long-term advantage over other big tech companies as emerging markets join the Information Age. “If your first e-mail address is Ovi.com, that’s a way into the digital world where Nokia is going to take you rather than Yahoo! (YHOO) or Google (GOOG),” says Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at market researcher Gartner (IT).
In addition, Nokia aims to enhance the economic impact of mobile phones on poor users’ lives by means of a new information service, Nokia Life Tools. Academic researchers have already demonstrated that access to telecommunications can have a dramatic impact on economic well-being. For example, Robert Jensen, who has taught at Harvard University and Brown University, showed how mobile phones allowed fishermen in the Indian state of Kerala to get up-to-date information on which coastal markets were offering the best prices for their catch (BusinessWeek.com, 9/13/07).
But there has also been a lack of information relevant to people living in remote regions. Nokia plans to offer rural Indians information on subjects such as weather, pesticides, fertilizers, and the best places to buy and sell crops. For example, at the beginning of the planting season, farmers could check which cash crops are fetching the best prices. A subscription will cost about $1.20 a month. A separate service will offer English lessons and other educational information for 60? a month. Nokia plans to launch the service in the Indian state of Maharashtra by the end of the year, rolling it out to the rest of the country early in 2009 and later elsewhere in Asia and Africa.
In a departure for Nokia, the company will become a content provider to offer these new information services. Nokia will buy the information from third-party suppliers such as Reuters (TRI), but the services will carry the Nokia brand. And Nokia plans to determine what kind of content to provide. “We define what to deliver to the consumer given the insights and constant research we do,” says Jawahar Kanjilal, Nokia’s global head of emerging-market services.
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