In conversation with Ravi Kunwar, GM (Pan Asia) of HMD Global
2020 would have looked very different if it weren’t for smartphones. As the mighty coronavirus forced us into life indoors, we were even more reliant on our phones as sources of everything from news alerts to home deliveries, entertainment, connection and more. We caught up with Ravi Kunwar, GM (Pan Asia) of HMD Global, the maker of Nokia mobile, for insights on how the pandemic has affected the market for mobile phones.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the handset market globally?
There are two levels to this answer. Firstly, our industry, and company, have been impacted immensely; but equally, I think, as individuals, we had never experienced this kind of a global pandemic. It has certainly impacted our personal and social lives, too. But I believe, as a human race, we are truly resilient, we will find the ways and means to overcome all the challenges. Thankfully, 2021 is all about vaccines, and there is a lot of news and discussions that point towards more positive outcomes in the future. Coming back to the question, thankfully we've been positively impacted during the pandemic, despite the global crises. The reason is that the whole approach with which people used to live their lives has changed, and that has affected our industry.That's due to the fact that daily life has moved online. People were made to stay indoors, with everything from work to school to grocery shopping being done digitally. And what gives us the fastest access to the internet other than our mobile phones? That's how, as an industry, we took up a big responsibility in terms of providing consumers with the fastest, most convenient solution.
Because of this, we’ve witnessed a surge in demand for Nokia phones during the pandemic, because, one - a lot of people who were using feature phones have actually upgraded, because there is no alternative to using smartphones under the given circumstances. Secondly, another set of consumers decided to upgrade to better phones in order to be able to take care of a lot of things which they could not achieve with their phones earlier. So, by and large, we’ve been able to provide solutions which could perhaps ease the impact on people during this extremely difficult time.
The consumption of mobile phones has also gone up; previously, people used to spend it 8 to 10 hours on their mobile phones. Now, however, we see people are on their phones - whether for work or to stay in touch with their loved ones - almost throughout the day, except for when they’re asleep. So, definitely, it has changed the world completely, and with that, our industry has become pivotal during this pandemic.
What kind of opportunities do you think Nokia mobile has in the market?
If we talk specifically about the Bangladeshi market, I think it has been a good three decades of the existence of the Nokia brand, and the consumers have given us a lot of love and affection, as has been evident in the past, and at present. If you look at the latest brand surveys, we are one of the most trusted and loved brands in Bangladesh. So the avenues are plenty; we can see a lot of demand for feature phones, which continues to rise, and that's because we continue to innovate and bring features - especially migrating from 2G to 3G to 4G - even to feature phones. Even in case of the series of smartphones we’ve launched in the Bangladesh market in the last 3 years, we've seen a lot of positive responses. Consumers love it, because in this age and time, you will choose a brand which you can trust. And it's not only on brand surveys that tell us that consumers love us as a brand; if you look at the latest Counterpoint research, for the last two years we've been voted the best as far as trust and reliability - both on the hardware and the software - are concerned. And that counts because the details we go into are like any other brand, in terms of timely software and security updates, and the fact that we provide OS upgrades for 2 years - these mean that we are investing on what consumers believe in. That's why, I believe in a market like Bangladesh, with a large youth population and a growing economy, and a growing GDP, we will continue to grow as far as Nokia phones are concerned.
Like you mentioned, the demand for Nokia feature phones is still quite high, in this day and age, when people rely on their smartphones for almost everything. Why do you think feature phones have such a big demand?
I think a majority of the people are still using feature phones as their primary mobile phones. One reason, perhaps, could be the affordability aspect of it; because if you look at some of our developing markets - and Bangladesh could be considered as one of them - you can see that, still an entry-level, good smartphone could be raging from anywhere between $50 to $60. Now, how do you break that price barrier and bring it below $50? So, there is a sizeable population which, because of the affordability, still relies on feature phones. Then, there is another set of consumers, especially the elderly, who would still want to have a tactile experience rather than tapping on the screen. A third set of people do not want to be online 24x7, and with the innovation that Nokia mobiles brings to its feature phones range - especially the 4G, which allows you to be connected, while also delivering in terms of look and feel. So, we continue to innovate with feature phones, and we are also trying to bridge the gap by launching new products in the market, especially in the lower price range, so that affordability factor can also be taken care of.
As you said earlier, the demand for smartphones has increased during the pandemic due to, possibly, the lack of physical contact and face-to-face interactions. Do you think, despite the increase in demand, there are any problems that Nokia mobile has faced?
A surge in demand certainly means that your backend should be prepared, so from a logistics perspective, given the global nature of pandemic, the timelines have gotten stretched. Most of the manufacturing bases of the industry are still located there in one particular part of the world, and as an industry, we’ve faced challenges in ensuring the logistics, shipping lines, and air transportation continue to work cohesively, and ensuring that the consumer receives the phone when they want it. That’s certainly one issue which we have been battling constantly during the pandemic. These are, however, short-term concerns, I believe. With the prospect of vaccinations, things may be looking up soon.
Would you say that the boom in the handset industry across the globe will continue in a post Covid-19 world?
For our brand, I can say we've been able to capitalize well by providing solutions during the pandemic, and I see this as a steady state growth - because life will not go back to how it was in pre-Covid times. As time passes, we will find more uses for smartphones. Of course, there is the case of the 5G technology coming in, and also the fact that the world has now realized that there are lots of things which they can do more effectively, even if they are connected remotely, with their smartphones. Everything will, now, pivot around the usage of smartphones, and I don't see the demand dying down anytime soon. So, from a Nokia perspective, I believe we will continue to see a positive demand in the market as we move forward.
Recently, Nokia mobiles has been recognized as one of the most loved brands in the handset category by Bangladesh Brand Forum & Nielsen. What do you have to say about that?
We thank and respect the consumers of Bangladesh. As I said, there is a large fan-base for Nokia mobiles which we’ve built over the last 3 decades by earning their trust over time. We’ve been able to achieve that by maintaining the quality that we’ve ensured for our mobile phones, and the whole care network, and the connection with consumers we’ve maintained through marketing. I think it is a challenge for us to continue to build that trust as we move forward, and, as an organization we’re fully prepared and we continue to invest in Bangladesh - being one of the critical markets for us.
Nokia mobiles is one of the few brands that has had a very loyal customer base for a very long time, and you continue to work on maintaining that customer base with the services and the upgrades that you provide. Could you perhaps elaborate on what aspects you think customers rely on for them to trust Nokia mobiles?
The main competitive aspects of smartphones are the price and specs, but after a certain point in time, consumers stop to differentiate. What we've been continuously working on is how we, as a brand, can focus on software updates on security - and those are the key aspects which the consumers are really concerned with. As a brand, we aspire to bring the Nordic design, value and trust for the consumers - and we are constantly working towards it.
What can we expect from Nokia mobiles in 2021?
For this year, we have big plans for the Bangladeshi market. Bangladesh is a critical market, where we continue to invest - thanks to a big distribution network that we have spread across the country. We will continue to launch new products - both in the feature phone and smartphone categories.