People have been wondering if Nokia will return to the handset business once it’s no longer contractually obligated to not design and license handsets, and now the company’s CEO has the answer: yes. When Nokia sold its handset division to Microsoft last year, part of the agreement was that the company not design and license anymore handsets for a couple of years, and with that restriction set to expire next year, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri has made it clear that the company intends to find suitable partners to re-enter the handset business in 2016.
Nokia, once the world’s biggest maker of mobile phones, plans to start designing and licensing handsets again once an agreement with partner Microsoft allows it to in 2016, its chief executive told Germany’s Manager Magazin. “We will look for suitable partners,” Rajeev Suri said in an interview published on Thursday. “Microsoft makes mobile phones. We would simply design them and then make the brand name available to license.” Finland’s Nokia sold its phone business to Microsoft in 2014 after years of declining sales as it failed to keep up with innovations led by Apple’s iPhone. But months later it launched a new brand-licensed tablet computer, produced under license by Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn, with an intention to follow up with more devices. Many analysts expect Microsoft to write off all or part of the $7.2 billion it paid for Nokia’s handset unit, a deal that left Microsoft with a money-losing business and only 3 percent of the smartphone market. Microsoft manager Stephen Elop, whom the U.S. software giant installed as Nokia chief executive for a time, is now leaving Microsoft in a sign the company is turning away from the hardware devices business he headed and back to its core software business. Nokia in April announced a 15.6 billion-euro ($17.8 billion) takeover of Alcatel-Lucent in a bid to boost the network equipment business that is now its mainstay.