Nokia Corporation (NOK - Analyst Report) has finally managed to get some big carrier partners to revive its smartphone business. These carriers are believed to be betting on Nokia, in order to reduce their dependence on Apple Inc.’s (AAPL - Analyst Report) iPhone and other Android-based phones.
Recently, AT&T Inc. (T - Analyst Report) – the second largest carrier in the U.S. started selling Nokia’s latest Lumia offering, while the biggest U.S. carrier Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ - Analyst Report) has started taking pre orders for its customized Lumia 822 from November 13. Moreover, T-Mobile USA, one of the top 4 U.S. carriers, is also likely to offer Lumia 810, before the holiday season ends.
In mainland China, China Mobile Limited (CHL - Snapshot Report) has revealed its customized Lumia 920T offering, which is the first from the world’s largest mobile operator. With a 3G penetration of as low as 19%, China provides huge growth opportunity for Nokia, which has been a strong ground for the company over the years.
Nokia provides the carriers the opportunity to have their own customized Lumia, thereby differentiating their products from the competitors. This is a unique benefit, which will enable Nokia to win more carrier partners particularly in the lucrative U.S. market, where it has lagged over years. However, the lack of applications as compared to Apple and Android has been the major cause of concern for Nokia.
Tying up with these big carriers couldn’t have come at a better time for the Finnish telecom giant as Nokia will leverage from the marketing prowess of Microsoft Corporation (MSFT - Analyst Report) , which will target its huge user base to popularize its recently launched Windows/Windows Phone 8 Operating System.
Nokia is expected to benefit from the marketing push of the big operators, which are looking to add on a third ecosystem to increase the competition in the smartphone market. Higher smartphone subsidies to tap customers are eating up on the margins of these carriers. Thus, a third OS will not only reduce the carriers’ dependence on Android or iOS but will also provide customers with wider choice given Lumia’s variety.
Nokia reported dismal results for the third quarter of 2012, with the company shipping only 6.3 million smart devices, which include only 2.9 million Lumia series phones. We believe this big carrier partnership could act as a boon for Nokia to stamp Lumia’s mark as one of the biggest smartphone brands in the world. However, Nokia will require more such partnerships to create a niche for itself as Windows phone has little customer acceptance till date.
We maintain our long-term Neutral recommendation on Nokia. Currently, the company retains a Zacks #3 Rank, implying a short-term Hold rating.