Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark (pictured) cautioned the company was yet to see any concrete signs of operator investments in mobile networks improving following a tough 2023, as the vendor booked drops in revenue and profit in Q4.

During the quarter, Nokia was hit with the news customer AT&T had signed-up with rival Ericsson for a massive open RAN project, slashed long-term profit targets across the business and started a fresh cost-cutting programme.

Although highlighting improvements in customer orders in its fixed-focused Network Infrastructure division and the signing of a pair of patent agreements this month, Lundmark flagged expected continued difficulty in Mobile Networks as operator spending remained limited.

“We are still waiting for mobile operators throughout the world to start investing because investments have been very low,” he said on an earnings call, highlighting this was most pronounced in the North American market in 2023.

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Investments will need to come as without that operators will not be able to monetise 5G properly

Pekka Lundmark – CEO Nokia

“The fact still remains only around 25 per cent of the base stations outside of China are 5G mid-band and a small [number] of all core networks have been upgraded to 5G-Advanced. Those investments will need to come as, without that operators will not be able to monetise 5G properly”.

Lundmark’s comments echo those made by Ericsson chief Borje Ekholm earlier this week, with a similar market summary the subject of dour analyst forecasts.

The Nokia chief added part of the issue was high interest rates, with many operators having “high leverage”. However, he cited an expectation continued growth in data traffic would gradually “force operators to start once again to invest, but the reality is nobody knows when that will come. I’m absolutely convinced it will come, but we’re not yet seeing concrete signs of it happening.”

Nokia reported net sales of €5.7 billion in Q4 2023, down 23 per cent year-on-year.

It booked a net loss of €33 million, which compares to a profit of €3.2 billion in the final quarter of 2022, however the company pointed to a number of one-off items impacting Q4 profit figures in both years. With those items stripped out, its net profit would have dropped 39 per cent to €568 million.