The Friday Interview: Conor Pierce, Nokia Ireland

7 Jan 2005

Nokia Ireland’s newly appointed general manager Conor Pierce (pictured) assumes the role at a perhaps the most interesting time in the history of the country’s relatively young mobile sector within the past 10 years.

The Irish allegedly talk the most, text the most, deliver the highest average revenue per user (ARPU) levels for operators in Europe, the market is on the brink of revolutions in 3G and we are about to witness the onset of a potential mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) market.

As I breathlessly expound all of this not-very-new information, Pierce sounds unfazed and repeatedly reminds me that none of this matters a fig unless consumers in the Irish marketplace perceive they are getting value and quality from either phone manufacturers or operators.

In fact, Pierce appears to be looking beyond talk of ARPU and the onset of MVNOs and is more excited about the uses of mobile technology going forward in terms of multimedia, gaming and particularly, cameras and imaging. Pierce, however, confesses to being anxious that operators and phone manufacturers make the most out of the opportunities that 3G will afford by creating meaningful applications and devices.

Prior to occupying the helm at Nokia’s Irish operations, Pierce worked in the consumer products division of another well-known Scandinavian phone maker, Ericsson, where he focused on driving prepaid mobile solutions to emerging mobile markets in Africa, South America and Asia.

With Nokia’s financial results due in the weeks ahead, Pierce is unwilling to talk figures but is happy to discuss his views on the trends and issues impacting the local mobile market. He admits that Nokia occupies pole position in an increasingly competitive consumer and business marketplace. “An essential ingredient is the fact that we listen to what customers out there are looking for and this has resulted in a strategic focus on being flexible and this is visible in the variety of phones we bring to market every year. In 2005, we envisage introducing 40 new models alone.”

Nokia divides its communications business into four distinct areas; enterprise (small businesses and corporate devices), multimedia (gaming, imaging and music), mobile phones and networks (infrastructure, base stations and billing systems). As a businessman, Pierce is fired up about the company’s expanding enterprise portfolio aimed at enabling businesspeople on the move to enjoy access to corporate data and servers over secure virtual private networks. This drive has resulted in the maturing of the Symbian operating system, which is featuring on more Nokia devices and has culminated in major enterprise alliances with players such as IBM, Cisco, Oracle, RIM and Smartner.

On the multimedia side Pierce envisages the proliferation of camera phone devices – with some 200 million sold in the past year alone – will be driven further by the maturity of these devices as they move from 1.3MPto 3MP technology in the coming year. “This will afford manufacturers and operators major opportunities in the realms of multimedia messaging and video sharing. We are only at the tip of the iceberg as 3G/WCDMA becomes more widely and commercially available,” he adds.

Although 3G has been talked about for years now, Pierce correctly argues that we are only at the beginning of this new era of mobile communications and both manufacturers and operators need to come up with compelling applications that would make business and consumer spending on 3G attractive, otherwise the industry runs the risk of reproducing the disappointment that was Wap back in 1999. “What’s very important that 3G is perceived as a value, as a benefit. When Wap was the buzzword of the day a lot of people came out with a phone but what was required was more applications. The same rule applies to 3G. It will be a gradual growth, from an applications point of view we would want to make sure that the real value and benefit is perceived as something they would want and use. Vodafone’s Live service is impressive and our 6630 device (Nokia’s 3G phone) is strongly positioned for such a market. Ultimately it is about sending the right message to the consumer – enabling them to understand the content benefit – and in time it is will become a part of their daily lives such as text messaging is today,” he explains.

Continuing with the multimedia theme, Pierce believes that 2005 will be a watershed year for mobile gaming and mobile music. “Globally, we have sold over one million N-Gage and N-Gage QD devices. Gaming is a very strategic focus at Nokia right now as we believe it is hugely important to youth culture. In terms of music and media, we have signed a deal with Loudeye to bring MP3 to Nokia handsets. Personal storage will also be vital to the market in 2005 and more handsets will feature memory cards. For example, our 9300 and 9500 Communicator devices have 90MB, which can be augmented by a 120MB memory card. That is a good indication of where we are heading.”

In conclusion, Pierce is no doubt certain he has joined Nokia’s Irish operation at an interesting, tumultuous time, but reckons hard work and close alliances with operators and technology players will be vital. “From a local perspective, Ireland is a very tech savvy market and that’s what makes the market ideal; we have a very mature market for the size of the country – comparing ARPUs and penetration we are way up there. SMS is part of the culture. What’s important now is to bring the market to another level in that consumers understand the benefit of 3G, what 3G is about and that is not a merely a word to use in describing content.

“We need to work closely with operators to ensure 3G’s success and ensure that video content and applications are moving in the right direction. It is important that Nokia leverages its strong portfolio and user base and that we align ourselves with operators’ strategies and educate the end users.

“2005 will be a fantastic year of new opportunity and new technologies will come into play and it is vital that all players leverage on this. Nokia is perceived as the lead player in this market and my job is for that to continue,” Pierce concluded.

By John Kennedy