Bangladesh: Nokia seeks to recapture former glory with Made-in-Bangladesh smartphones

Nokia launched two locally manufactured smartphone models on Nov. 25, aiming to grab this expanding market with hopes that people will again start looking forward to their beloved brand reminiscing the past.

A factory at Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City in Kaliakair of Gazipur will be churning out over 9,000 Nokia handsets per month, including Nov. 25’s G Series models of G10 and G20.

Vibrant Software (BD) Ltd., a joint venture of United Kingdom-based Vibrant Software and Bangladesh’s Union Group, received permission to assemble Nokia devices and set up the first factory to manufacture Nokia smartphones in Bangladesh.

Union Group with its arm Cellular Mobile (Pte) Limited (CMPL) first imported Nokia phones to Bangladesh in 1996, starting off with only 10 devices. Initially, the journey was not so easy.

“It took three months for me to sell those 10 bar phones as there was almost 100% import duty and many illegal phones in the market, which was very small in size,” said Raquibul Kabir, managing director of the group.

“I became a bit disappointed, but kept patience as I loved it,” he said.

Then CMPL brought in 100 phones to the country and sold them in a month.

Its biggest push came after it secured a deal with Citycell, one of the oldest mobile operators in Bangladesh, and marketed 3,000 Nokia phones under the agreement.

After that, there was over a decade of tremendous advancement for Nokia in Bangladesh and it became a household brand.

Over the years, CMPL’s sales rocketed to a proportion where Nokia was established as a preferred cellphone brand in the country.

In its heyday from 2008 to 2011, its local market share was 60-75%.

“And when Android sets started getting popular and Nokia couldn’t cope with that, the Nokia smartphone market started to shrink and the business was almost gone in Bangladesh in 2014,” said Kabir.

Nokia’s fall from the top resulted from the Finnish multinational’s failure to adapt to the latest technologies since 2007 and not taking the popularity of iPhones as a serious threat.

Its dominance further eroded when the Android operating system began to rule the roost in the mobile manufacturing technology.

Nokia started to rebound slowly after HMD Global, a company set up by former executives of Nokia and Microsoft, secured a license for the marketing and manufacturing of Nokia in 2016.

Union Group now wants to establish Nokia, which is still a market leader in the basic phone segment, as a dominant player in the smartphone segment.

“We want to reestablish Nokia as a popular brand and regain its past glory,” said Kabir.

“Not only that, we have plans to export Made-in-Bangladesh devices.”

Alvee Rana, a director of Union Group, said: “We have set up the factory following European standards set by HMD Global.”

“The Made-in-Bangladesh handsets will certainly help us gain more market share in the smartphone segment and provide consumers more affordable handsets.”

“Almost everyone in the country has a connection with the Nokia brand.”

The two-storey factory equipped with advanced technologies will process 300 smartphones every day through six production lines, of which four are for assembling and two are for packaging.

The plant features all the required infrastructure, including its own testing laboratory, and employs around 200 workers.

The local mobile handset manufacturing industry began its journey in 2017, when electronics brand Walton launched production in Bangladesh.

Since then, 14 brands, including global smartphone vendors Samsung, Symphony, Oppo, Realme and Xiaomi, began production.

These brands produce 90% of the smartphones sold in the local market and meet 60% of the local demand for both smartphones and feature phones.