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Nokia Steps Up Marketing Of Unlocked N-Series Phones

6/01/2007 03:00:00 PM Eastern

White Plains. N.Y. – Nokia has begun to aggressively market its premium N series of GSM network cellular phones on an unlocked basis to online retailers, independent wireless specialists and national and regional CE retailers to supplement sales through carrier channels.

Because of their premium status, the N-series phones supplement carriers’ more volume-oriented offerings with devices targeted to “tech leaders” and “tech stylists,” said Rob Pignataro, Nokia’s multimedia sales director for North America. The strategy also provides early adopters with device options that they wouldn’t likely get through carriers, he added.

“We want to support our carrier business but offer them [retailers and online retailers] more choices,” Pignataro added. The strategy will help expand the industry, and “our channel partners also want to grow the industry,” he said.

The N-series GSM and GSM/WCDMA handsets are sold through wireless distributors and traditional consumer electronics distributors to retailers who can sell them unactivated and unsubsidized to consumers. Consumers would then insert an activated SIM card from their existing GSM phone to use the N-series device, Nokia said.

Nokia also markets step-up unlocked GSM phones in its other series through non-carrier channels, but details on whether the company is stepping up this activity were unavailable. Such phones include the planned Luna, made of stainless steel and glass and expected to retail at about $800 later this summer.

Nokia offered its first N-series phone on an unlocked basis in late 2005, when the phone became available to consumers through Ritz, CompUSA, and independent wireless specialists, Pignataro said. About six months ago, however, Nokia stepped up its unlocked program for several reasons, including growing consumer awareness of the N series and the growing selection of N-series models optimized for U.S. networks and consumers. Early N-series models were triband world phones designed mainly for the European market, so they operated in the U.S. in only one band, the 1,900MHz band, he explained. Newer N-series quad-band phones operate in both U.S. bands [850 and 1,900MHz], optimizing them for use on the 850/1,900MHz AT&T/Cingular network as well as on the 1,900MHz T-Mobile network. One new model, the N75, is a quad-band GSM/EDGE model that also operates in W-CDMA mode in the U.S. 850/1,900MHz bands.

Additionally, Nokia is expanding the N series’ selection of clamshell phones, which  U.S. consumers prefer over candy bars and sliders. The company, however, also plans to expand the selection of all form factors within the N series.

With a greater selection of U.S.-optimized phones under Nokia’s belt, the number of N-series distribution points “is significantly greater than six months ago,” Pignataro said. N-series online retailers include Amazon, Let’s Talk, BestBuy.com, and Tiger Direct, and several weeks ago, Dell.com and Gateway.com began selling models.

In New York City’s borough of Manhattan, 28 storefronts are carrying the N series, including Best Buy Mobile outlets, one CompUSA outlet, J&R Music World, Datavision, and Willoughby’s. The other stores are wireless specialty stores, according to Nokia’s nseries.com Web site.

Pignataro declined to specify the number of outlets nationwide selling unlocked N-series phones, but he did say regional retailers are carrying models on the West Coast. Nokia also plans a “broader rollout” to national and regional retailers that he expects to test N-series phones, he said, noting that in the U.S., “We’re starting to see big box retailers testing unlocked devices.”

To support sales through storefronts, Nokia is mixing traditional newspaper and print ads with “nontraditional marketing to the targeted consumer segments,” Pignataro said. That’s supplemented by retailers’ advertising, in-store merchandising, and extra retail sales training, he said. Most of these efforts have been focused to date on the New York City market, described as a test bed for the company.

In-store merchandising efforts include the availability of live, activated phones at the point of sale to demonstrate features and benefits. In some cases, wired and wireless speakers are set up to demonstrate music capabilities, and laptops are on display to demonstrate laptop-to-phone synchronization.

New models: The programs will support sales of the two latest unlocked N-series models, the N75 and N76 at suggested retails of $429 and $499, respectively, without contract. The N75 has also been available through AT&T/Cingular channels in an AT&T/Cingular-branded box with contract since May 4 at a recommended $199 after rebates with two-year contract, AT&T said.

The N75 is a quad-band GSM/EDGE model that also operates in the U.S. 850/1,900MHz bands in W-CDMA mode. It lacks HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access). The chrome-and-magnesium 4.06-ounce N76, which is the thinnest N-series phone at 0.54 inches, is also quad-band GSM/EDGE but operates in W-CDMA mode only in foreign 2.1GHz networks.

Both models feature one-touch access to the built-in music player via dedicated front-cover music, built-in stereo speakers, and microSD slot to store up to 2GB of music or movies. It also features FM radio, a 2-megapixel camera with integrated flash, a 2.4-inch color display, an on-device photo editing, push-to-talk service, and MGEG-4 video capture and playback. It plays music in the MP3 and WMA formats as well as in the AAC family of formats.

Both models are based on the Symbian S60 OS, enabling them to display Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents and access IMAP4 and POP3 email accounts. Neither model is designed to download music over the air.

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