Over the past 150 years, Nokia has evolved from a riverside paper mill in south-western Finland to a global telecommunications leader connecting over 1.3 billion people. During that time, we’ve made rubber boots and car tyres. We’ve generated electricity. We’ve even manufactured TVs. Changing with the times, disrupting the status quo – it’s what we’ve always done. And we fully intend to keep doing it.
The story so far
In 1865, mining engineer Fredrik Idestam sets up his first wood pulp mill at the Tammerkoski Rapids in south-western Finland. A few years later he opens a second mill on the banks of the Nokianvirta river, which inspires him to name his company Nokia Ab in 1871.
How apt that Nokia begins by making paper – one of the most influential communications technologies in history.
The galoshes revolution
OK, so it’s not exactly a revolution. But in 1898, Eduard Polón founds Finnish Rubber Works, which later becomes Nokia’s rubber business, making everything from galoshes to tyres.
Nokia rubber boots become a bona fide design classic, still on sale to this day – though we no longer make them.
Electronics go boom
In 1912, Arvid Wickström sets up Finnish Cable Works, the foundation of Nokia’s cable and electronics business.
By the 1960s, Finnish Cable Works – already working closely with Nokia Ab and Finnish Rubber Works – starts branching out into electronics. In 1962, it makes its first electronic device in-house: a pulse analyser for use in nuclear power plants.
In 1963, it starts developing radio telephones for the army and emergency services – Nokia’s first foray into telecommunications. In time, the company’s MikroMikko becomes the best known computer brand in Finland. And by 1987, Nokia is the third largest TV manufacturer in Europe.
Three become one
Having been jointly owned since 1922, Nokia Ab, Finnish Cable Works and Finnish Rubber Works officially merge in 1967. The new Nokia Corporation has five businesses: rubber, cable, forestry, electronics and power generation. But as the 1980s come into view, it’s an entirely new industry that makes Nokia a household name around the world.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s it seems everything – from Tom Selleck’s moustache to JR Ewing’s list of enemies – is seriously big. And as the mobile communications revolution starts to gather momentum, the early handsets continue the trend.
The new Nokia Corporation is ideally placed to take a pioneering role in this new industry, leading the way with some iconic – and by today’s standards, very large – products.
The mobile era begins
Nokia sets the ball rolling in 1979, creating radio telephone company Mobira Oy as a joint venture with leading Finnish TV maker Salora. 1981 then sees the launch of the Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) service, the world’s first international cellular network and the first to allow international roaming.
The NMT standard catches on fast and the mobile phone industry begins to expand rapidly. In 1982, Nokia introduces the first car phone – the Mobira Senator – to the network. That same year, the Nokia DX200, the company’s first digital telephone switch, goes into operation.
Good enough for Gorbachev
In 1984, Nokia launches the Mobira Talkman portable car phone. Resembling a military field telephone, it’s a fairly cumbersome piece of kit – but it’s a start.
Then in 1987, Nokia introduces the Mobira Cityman, the first handheld mobile phone for NMT networks. Despite weighing in at 800 grams and a price tag of 24,000 Finnish Marks (around EUR 4,560), it goes on to become a classic. The Cityman even earns a nickname, the “Gorba”, after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is pictured using one to make a call from Helsinki to his communications minister in Moscow.
Over the next decade, millions of consumers worldwide enjoy their very own Gorbachev moment as the mobile revolution takes hold.
In 1987, GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) is adopted as the European standard for digital mobile technology. With its high-quality voice calls, international roaming and support for text messages, GSM ignites a global mobile revolution.
As a key player in developing this new technology, Nokia is able to take full advantage.
A new direction
On July 1, 1991, Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri makes the world’s first GSM call, using Nokia equipment. And in 1992, Nokia launches its first digital handheld GSM phone, the Nokia 1011.
That same year, new Nokia President and CEO Jorma Ollila makes a crucial strategic decision: to focus exclusively on manufacturing mobile phones and telecommunications systems. Nokia’s rubber, cable and consumer electronics divisions are gradually sold off.
Name that tune
In 1994, Nokia launches the 2100 series, the first phones to feature the Nokia Tune ringtone. Based on Gran Vals, a classical guitar piece composed by Francisco Tarrega in the 19th century, it is probably one of the most frequently played pieces of music in the world. The Nokia 2100 series goes on to sell 20 million phones worldwide. Nokia’s target had been 400,000.
1994 also sees the world’s first satellite call, made using a Nokia GSM handset.
Hear Gran Vals, the inspiration for the Nokia Tune.
In 1997, everybody knows their Snake high score. An instant classic, the addictive game is launched on the Nokia 6110 and by 2010 its successors are available on an estimated 350 million mobile phones.
On top of the world
By 1998, Nokia is the world leader in mobile phones. The strategic decision to focus on telecommunications, plus early investment in GSM, has paid off. Between 1996 and 2001, Nokia’s turnover increases almost fivefold from EUR 6.5 billion to EUR 31 billion.
And with the new millennium comes a host of new possibilities as the internet goes mobile…
As the new millennium dawns, everything changes. New technology enables the internet to go mobile, opening up a world of possibilities for mobile users. No longer are phones just for phone calls.
In 1999, Nokia launches the Nokia 7110, a phone capable of rudimentary web-based functions, including email. Then in November 2001 Nokia launches its first phone with a built-in camera, the Nokia 7650, and in September 2002 its first video capture phone, the Nokia 3650.
However, it’s when Nokia launches its first 3G phone (third generation), the Nokia 6650, in 2002 that things really take off. With 3G technology, phones can now be used to browse the web, download music, watch TV on the move, and more.
Mobiles will never be the same again.
One billion and counting
In 2005, Nokia sells its billionth phone – a Nokia 1100 – in Nigeria, and global mobile phone subscriptions pass 2 billion. Two years later, Nokia is recognised as the 5th most valued brand in the world.
Things have come a long way since Fredrik Idestam opened his paper mill.
For years, Nokia has been working to make its business practices and products as environmentally and socially responsible as possible – from creating eco friendly handsets and establishing phone recycling schemes to bringing the benefits of mobility to emerging markets. This commitment to sustainability is recognised in a number of prestigious rankings. For example, in 2009 and 2010, the Dow Jones Indexes ranks Nokia as the world’s most sustainable technology company.
In contrast, Nokia’s position in the mobile market faces its toughest challenge to date as competition intensifies in the burgeoning smartphone segment. Once again, the company’s ability to adapt is put to the test…
By 2010, having dominated the mobile world for over a decade, Nokia no longer has things all its own way. In the all-important smartphone market, competitors such as the iPhone and Android-based devices now pose a serious challenge. Clearly, it’s time for a rethink…
The good news is this is nothing new for Nokia. Adapting and transforming the business, finding innovative ideas and solutions, rolling up our sleeves and getting on with things: it’s in the company’s DNA.
A fresh face at the helm
In September 2010, Nokia appoints Stephen Elop as President and CEO. Formerly head of Microsoft’s business division, following roles at Juniper Networks and Adobe Systems Inc., Elop has a strong software background and proven record in change management.
A meeting of minds
In February 2011, Nokia announces it is joining forces with Microsoft to strengthen its position in the smartphone market. The strategic partnership sees Nokia smartphones adopting the new Windows Phone 7 operating system, with the Symbian platform gradually being sidelined. The goal is to establish a third ecosystem to rival iOS and Android.
“The industry has shifted from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems.”
Stephen Elop, President and CEO, Nokia
Let battle commence
Nokia launches its first Nokia with Windows Phones, the Nokia Lumia 800 and the Nokia Lumia 710, in October 2011. Fast-forward to 2013 and Nokia has a full portfolio of great Windows Phone 8 smartphones, from the Lumia 520 through the flagship Lumia 920.