Analyst Summit season is upon us, a time when operators and vendors alike work to get their messaging across before the year comes to an end. Following visits with Qualcomm and Vodafone Group, you’ve already seen some of our recent analyses. Huawei’s vison will get shared at its Mobile Broadband Forum in a few weeks, after a 5G update from Intel this week.

It all makes for a busy time of the year, but it’s important to get out of the office on a regular basis if you’re trying to understand the shape of the market.

That’s why the last few weeks have seen me go from Delhi to Barcelona, back to London and, most recently, off to the US (specifically, New Jersey) for a few days. After all, if the goal is to understand the shape of mobility (or at least one, well-informed vendor’s vision) it only makes sense to go see Nokia at its Analyst Summit. And if there was one clear theme to Nokia’s messaging, it’s the role of the enterprise in shaping mobile networks and innovations.

Even before the day one keynotes kicked off, this focus was front and centre: a tour of Nokia’s new Future X lab included an immersive, virtual factory floor and no shortage of industrial automation use cases. The opening keynote from CEO Rajeev Suri, then, put the enterprise focus further into context. Enterprise executive and customer panels followed. We heard how, with the move into enterprise verticals as a core part of Nokia’s business strategy, the vendor now counts more than 60 mission critical networks in energy and mining, along with support for more than 80 rail networks, not to mention work with web-scale players like Tencent.

Day two hammered the message home with the launch of Nokia’s Future X for Industries strategy, a private networking deal with China Unicom and BMW, and a strategic alliance with Infosys focused on the energy, transportation and manufacturing sectors.

Clear signals
Of course, for anyone following the vendor, a deep discussion of the enterprise was never going to be a surprise. Enterprise verticals have always been a part of the Nokia customer mix, getting greater focus over the past few years. More recently, its Q3 results highlighted, “continued year-on-year growth in net sales to large enterprise vertical and web-scale customers.” And, while somewhat lost in a broader announcement about accelerating strategic execution, the creation of a new Enterprise Business Group was announced a few weeks back in late October. Heck, there’s even a dedicated Nokia for Industries Twitter handle…with about 1,000 more followers than I’ve got.

That’s a lot of signs, right? Sure, but even if you’d missed all of the panels and keynotes, and hadn’t followed any of Nokia’s previous messaging, you could still see how integral the enterprise is to Nokia’s business if only by looking at the technology bets it’s making:

5G. With an industry focus on slicing and IoT and opening up new markets for operators, 5G is about much more than consumers;
Mobile Edge. There are consumer applications for mobile edge networking (gaming, augmented and virtual reality, video streaming efficiencies). There are many more enterprise applications from IoT analytics and control to industrial automation;
Private Networking. Before the recent deal with China Unicom, Nokia was selling its Digital Automation Cloud as a plug-and-play networking solution for industries, including private network whether with licensed, unlicensed or shared spectrum;
CBRS. On the shared spectrum front, Nokia has been a big CBRS proponent since the very beginnings of that industry and the CBRS Alliance.

Past announcements. Recent announcements. Product announcements. Demos. Partnerships. Customer wins. Technology bets. The message of a focus on the enterprise and industries is impossible to ignore.

Target market
While this all might leave no question of Nokia’s focus on the enterprise, it does leave one question unanswered: who is the customer? Is it an operator in support of the enterprise? Is it the enterprise via a direct sales channel? An integrator? Some other partner?

The easy answer is “all of the above.” It’s a fair answer: they will all be customers and channels linked to Nokia’s enterprise efforts. That doesn’t necessarily make it a satisfying answer. Instead, it suggests a tangled web of relationships driven by a diverse set of stakeholders (some not yet cultivated) delivering components across operators and enterprises. As a corollary, it suggests plenty of potential commercial conflicts as we sort out who takes responsibility for deals and who gets their share of the business, all against the backdrop of “friendly” competition.

These issues will get solved. But, they won’t be solved by technology. They’re fundamentally sales issues.

So, yes, Nokia will need to invest in vertical specific solutions and expertise. But it will also need to invest in new sales and marketing efforts, along with new ways of working with partners in an open way while guarding against competitive complexities the likes of which Nokia hasn’t had to deal with in the past.

The good news is that, at some level, Nokia seems to understand this. The new enterprise business unit implies new sales and marketing thinking. And, when it talked about “open,” the vendor is quick to note that this includes the way it works with partners and ecosystems, as well as products and product development.

What needs to follow, however, is proof that Nokia can pull all this together with a variety of customer references showcasing a variety of different enterprise engagement models. On top of that, it might as well make an interactive sales demo an integral part of its Future X Lab.

– Peter Jarich, head of GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.