Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft in late 2013 but may re-enter the market soon

Nokia plotting its return to consumer tech market

Nokia is plotting a return to the consumer technology arena as it hires software experts and begins testing new products.

The former world leader in mobile phone sales sold its handset business to Microsoft in late 2013 and has since focused on its telecoms network equipment business. However, CEO Rajeev Suri is planning a consumer tech comeback.

The company launched an Android tablet called the N1 in China in January and unveiled a "virtual-reality camera" last week. The company has also confirmed that some staff at its 600-strong technologies division, which has advertised dozens of jobs recently, are working on designs for new consumer products.

Among the projects is work on new mobile handsets, although a non-compete deal with Microsoft that expires in June 2016 means that date would be the earliest that the Nokia name would be able to re-enter the smartphone market.

While forcing its way back into the market will be tough, the company still retains one of the mobile industry's biggest troves of intellectual property, including patents it retained after selling its handset business.

The €15.6bn (£11bn) acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent, announced in April, will give it access to extra brainpower in the company's famous Bell Labs, a US research centre whose scientists have won eight Nobel prizes.

To keep the business lean and avoid being slow to react to new trends, as it was in the past, Suri said last month he will seek partners for "brand-licensing" deals where the Finnish firm will design new phones, bearing its brand, but will let other firms mass-manufacture, market and sell the devices in exchange for royalties.

This was the kind of deal Nokia struck for the N1 tablet and though they are less profitable than manufacturing and selling its own products, they are also less risky.

The company generates the bulk of income from selling telecoms network equipment to operators like Vodafone and T-Mobile, but Gartner analyst Sylvain Fabre says the firm wants to keep a presence in the consumer market.

"They want to be innovative and seen as a company with long-term vision in the (tech) industry and having a foot in devices plays into this impression, even if it's not bringing massive revenue at the outset," he said.

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