CES: Nokia CEO stresses need to democratize the smartphone

LAS VEGAS – Nokia’s (NYSE:NOK) goal, through a combination of good business and doing good, is to put mobile phones in the hands of the 2.2 billion people (out of 6.8 billion total) in the planet that still lack a mobile subscription, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo told CES attendees in his keynote presentation today. The usually humble handset maker used the keynote to showcase how it is changing lives across the world with basic mobile phones and Nokia’s Life Tools.

As a catalyst to achieving this vision, Kallasvuo announced that Nokia would fork over $1 million to the winner of a new Nokia Economy Venture Challenge, a contest for developers to develop new and innovative ways to promote upwards mobility in emerging markets across the globe. Kallasvuo said the industry has only scratched the surface of what is possible

Kallasvuo explained how phones like the basic Nokia 1616 link people in markets like Western China, Afghanistan and Ghana to mobile money transfer services, trading and farming information and tools to learn English. Farmers with very little to spare are investing in the $32 phone as a way to improve their way of life, increase their income and discover new opportunities for business, he said. For the past five years, Nokia has sold more than 750 million entry-level phones similar to the Nokia 1616 in these developing regions. For the most part, these phones are consumers first and only access to the Internet, Kallasvuo said.

Nokia’s progress has happened as fast as many expected, he added, due largely to a lack of infrastructure in these markets. But the global leader in handsets is making up for it with “Life Tools,” services like SMS that don’t necessarily require 3G to bring applications to these countries. Kallasvuo said that through inexpensive phones and applications, the industry can “democratize the smartphone” and change lives across the globe.

“In the real world, far away from here, these little devices have done already more to improve lives at the base of society’s economy than perhaps any technology in history,” Kallasvuo said. “There are billions of conversations, billions of connections every day. We are connecting people on a scale unimaginable back when we started in the business.”

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