Nokia CEO: We don't know yet if we'll sell Here mapping business

Here has attracted suitors including German automakers and Uber, but Nokia says it needs more time to determine whether a sale makes sense.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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Nokia's Here could soon have a new owner, but exactly when remains to be seen. Nokia

Nokia is no stranger to big sales, but that doesn't mean the company will follow the same path with its mapping division.

Nokia's Here division is a hot commodity in the mapping business. For years, it's been widely considered a top option among a host of competitors, including Google Maps. Any company that acquires Here would not only have access to that mapping technology, but also have an entree to carmakers that have grown increasingly interested in bundling technology in cars.

Speaking to trade magazine European Communications in an interview published Thursday, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said that he's still unsure whether he'll spin off his company's Here mapping business unit. Nokia sells or licenses the service and software that its Here unit provides to a wide range of carmakers, mapping company Garmin, Oracle, and even Amazon. The service has up-to-date maps for 196 countries and provides live traffic information for 41 countries.

Suri acknowledged that his company -- which once dominated the mobile phone business but subsequently sold that division to Microsoft to focus on other parts of its operation -- has received "significant interest" in Here. Yet he said that he wanted to "give it more time," adding that "we may not end up selling it if we don't get the right value."

On April 30, Nokia touted the success of its Here business during the first quarter of 2015, reporting to investors that its sales were up 25 percent year-over-year to 261 million euros ($287 million). Carmakers licensed Nokia's Here technology for 3.6 million new vehicles during the quarter ending March 31, a jump of 29 percent compared to the same period last year. The Here division's gross profit hit 194 million euros, rising 21 percent compared to the prior year.

All of that, plus the generally high regard for Here's mapping technology, helped it attract several suitors. In early May, The New York Times reported, citing people who claimed to have knowledge of the dealings, that car-hailing service Uber had offered up to $3 billion for Nokia's Here business. A consortium made up of BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz was also planning to make an offer. China-based Baidu is also reportedly in the running.

Nokia is familiar with selling off components of its business. Last year, Nokia sold its devices business, which includes mobile phones, to Microsoft for over $7 billion. The sale allowed Nokia to focus on its networking operation, which sells telecommunications and data networking equipment. In addition to Here, Nokia also operates a technologies business that develops and licenses new products and services.

"We're doing [the strategic review] because the company will become much more networks focused," Suri said, referring to an initiative at Nokia to analyze all parts of its business and see what should be kept and what should go. "We've made that call."

Nokia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.