The next few years will be challenging for Nokia (NYSE: NOK), and execution will be critical to ensure the company is optimized to drive profitable revenue growth when its addressable market ultimately returns to sustained growth. With its core communication service provider (CSP) customer segment, which composes 95% of Networks’ revenue, expected to remain in a cost-optimization cycle pending new, proven revenue growth opportunities enabled by 5G (which TBR’s research suggests remains several years away), Nokia’s strategic focus on opportunities in the enterprise space and its internal digital transformation are prudent and timely and will take center stage in determining how financially successful the company will be as it transitions into the next decade.
Though more CSPs are committing to deploy 5G and other advanced network innovations such as virtualization over the next few years, the reality is that these infrastructure investments are being justified because they provide significant cost efficiencies to CSPs, enabling them to build, operate and support networks in a much more efficient and cost-effective manner compared to prior generations of network technology. This reality not only increases pressure on Nokia to boost its enterprise exposure to grow revenue, but also pushes management to accelerate digital transformation to protect margins.
Though TBR generally agrees with Nokia’s stance that the world is at the cusp of Industry 4.0, the divergence in thought comes down to timing and whether this cycle will be a short-duration revolution or a long-term evolution. TBR’s research suggests the latter and that Industry 4.0, which includes mass 5G adoption globally, will not ramp up until the 2022-2025 timeframe, at which point business cases will be proved, justifying an increase in market spend on ICT infrastructure. Until that time, Nokia needs to rightsize its shorter-term expectations and focus on building a solid foundation for its fledgling enterprise business while digitally transforming its internal operations to stay competitive.
Enterprises, 5G and Industry 4.0 dominated most of the mindshare at Nokia’s 2018 Global Analyst Forum. Nokia spent much less time discussing its individual product innovations and more time discussing how technology, people and processes are coming together to enable digital transformation, not only for CSPs but also for enterprises.