So... Nokia's taking a long, hard look at its health unit

Not so strategic now

Nokia appears to be revising its ambition to be the data kingpin of the digital health industry. The Finnish telecomms giant has put its Digital Health business up for “strategic review”.

This “may or may not result in any transaction or other changes”, it says coyly.

Over the past two years, Nokia has quietly assembled a range of consumer products that collect and analyse personal health data - based on its acquisition of Withings. Nokia lists 10 devices (not counting accessories) on its Health Store , almost all rebranded Withings kit, including a “smart analog” health watch that lasts a month on a charge, scales and a cardio health monitor.

This fulfilled CEO Ravi Suri's pledge last year to be “closer to the customer.”

But it was never really about the hardware, but the data. Nokia stressed that many sales were to enterprises and organisations in a highly competitive health sector. It was a B2B play, Alexis Normand explained last year.

“Everyone can have his health station at home, feeding data to virtual hospitals,” he said, providing “instant access to information and analytics previously restricted to medical professionals.” The idea was that sensors and smart end-points (phones) would do to health data processing what the PC did to commercial data processing: it would become more distributed, creating more opportunities.

That’s the goal anyway, but it’s just one shared by IBM, Google, Microsoft, Apple and almost every other large B2B IT player too. Health has been the most tempting vertical for two decades now. It remains elusive.

The post-phone Nokia continues to derive over 90 per cent of its revenue from networking gear, and the company has been rewarded by investors for its bullish outlook for 5G, predicting a renewed cycle of infrastructure capex for 2020. It has also said it will cut up to 425 jobs at home in Finland this year as part of belt-tightening measures following its buy of Alcatel-Lucent.

The dilemma for any IT vendor chasing the health vertical remains. You don't get the data unless you're a trusted consumer brand, and handling any kind of retail consumer kit is expensive and messy, with marketing, logistics and support costs you don't really want. ®

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