A classic returns? Nokia CEO confirms comeback for phones

Nostalgia beckons as Rajeev Suri reiterates plans for Nokia to re-enter the mobile phone market, but he also says "there's no rush."

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri, seen here in a 2015 photo, says the company will sell phones again. "It could happen in 2016, it could happen later."

Markku Ojala/EPA/Corbis

Nokia smartphones will be a thing again. Maybe in 2016, but maybe not.

The Finnish company confirmed Sunday at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona that it's pressing ahead with plans to sell smartphones. It just doesn't know when.

"There's no timeline, there's no rush," said Nokia Chief Executive Rajeev Suri at a press event. "It could happen in 2016, it could happen later."

The company, whose phones were once a favorite with consumers, sold its devices business to Microsoft in 2014 for $7.2 billion. It has since regained the rights to sell smartphones under the Nokia brand. We've only seen the company release one lonely Android tablet over the past year. In July, Nokia hinted it would re-enter the phone market in 2016, but then it went quiet, until now.

Nokia's reign in the mobile world began in the early 1990s and lasted almost 20 years, peaking with consumer favorites like the 3210 and 3310. Around the dawn of the iPhone in 2007, feature phones made by the likes of Nokia started to lose their luster. The company's popularity waned as the smartphone revolution took hold and Nokia failed to keep up.

Suri made it clear that Nokia wants to wait for the right partner rather than rush back into the market. As he has previously said, the company will not make the phones but will license the Nokia brand to a manufacturer.

It may prove to be a controlling partner, though. "We want to be in a position to design the devices in question with appropriate control measures in case they don't meet expectations," said Suri. When asked whether Nokia would partner with Foxconn, which also works closely with Apple to manufacture iPhones, he said he did not know yet.

Nokia believes it still has the potential to make an impact on the smartphone world, and will likely aim to do so with "premium" devices. "The recognition of the brand is still very high in all the major markets," said Suri. "We think it's a good business model."

Nokia may not be on a phone customer's radar right now, but the company is still beavering away on other projects. Since acquiring tech company Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia has focused on building 5G mobile networks and preparing to invade the world of connected devices.