Finland: a country of re-invention

Like many young people, I grew up with a piece of Finland in my pocket in the form of a Nokia mobile phone. So what happened after other companies like Apple and Google surged ahead?

We had the opportunity to hear from Lauri Oksanen, vice-president of research & technology at Nokia about where the company is now in its new phase of re-invention after it sold its business to Microsoft. Nokia is betting now on becoming a leader in 5G networks and infrastructure, having recently signed a US$3.5 billion agreement with U.S. network provider T-Mobile which Nokia believes will help in its battle against other communications giants like Huawei and Ericsson.

An auction for the 5G spectrum in the U.S. will be held later this year, and the network could be up by next year, he said. It’s still worth noting that four-fifths of its profit in its latest quarter  from its small patent licensing division and from its networks business posted just a 1.5 per cent operating profit margin, so the fight is far from over for the telecom company. But it is also unfair to declare Nokia dead.

Mr Lauri Oksanen, VP of research and technology at Nokia explaining Nokia’s new direction.

We also visited Varjo, an AR and VR company in the heart of downtown Helsinki started by former employees of Nokia and Microsoft in 2016 who say that their expertise in hardware has helped them build a headset and technology that surpasses that of its competitor in terms of resolution and field of view.

They got 1 million euros in seed funding even before they had officially incorporated as a company, and also 50,000 euros from Nokia’s bridge grant and a few years on, it plans to launch its product at the end of the year, geared towards industries like architecture, engineering, and automobile manufacturing.

FCP2018 members trying on Varjo’s VR headset.

They allowed us to try out its beta prototype as well as an early prototype for another headset based on a “mixed-reality” technology. The difference between these two were that the former allowed us to explore a different space, such as an art museum – in a resolution clearer than other VR headsets I have personally experienced. The latter allowed us to view the room we were in including other VR/AR elements not there in real life.

The takeaway of the day was that Finnish technological know-how has helped the country’s economy with its transition after the decline of Nokia’s mobile phone business. The Finnish government through Business Finland finances 800 startups a year and in 2015, startups employed 23,500 people, which would be the second largest employer were it a single company. From Angry Birds to Supercell, Finland is not done connecting the world.

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