Nokia says it's focused on tech and customers, but political fights complicate things

Key Points
  • Against a backdrop of rising tensions between the United States and China, Finnish telecommunications equipment maker Nokia says it's focusing on things that are under its control.
  • That includes its technology, its market access and customers, according to Nokia's Asia Pacific and Japan head, Jae Won. 
  • The U.S. and China are fighting for dominance in new technologies, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G.
Nokia aims to focus on what 'it can control' in Asia's 5G rollout, says regional head

SINGAPORE — Against a backdrop of rising tensions between the United States and China, Finnish telecom equipment maker Nokia says it's focusing on areas it can control — such as its technology and customers, a senior executive said Wednesday. 

"From Nokia's perspective, we have to focus on the areas that we can control. What we can control are our own technology, our own go-to market and making sure that the service providers that we are supporting have continuous services and supply of the equipment and technology into their customer base," Jae Won, head of Asia Pacific and Japan at Nokia, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia.

"The various geopolitical issues does provide some complications but as far as we are concerned, we focus on the technology that we can develop and we focus on the customers and the business opportunities that 5G and Industry 4.0 will provide for the future," he added.

The U.S. and China are fighting to dominate in new technologies, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G, which refers to the next generation of high-speed mobile internet that provides faster data speeds and more bandwidth. In fact, China has stepped up efforts to reduce foreign-reliance on high-end chips by investing heavily into its domestic semiconductor market. 

Some experts have said in recent years that the U.S.-China rivalry could lead to the emergence of two internets.

Often referred to as a "splinternet," it is the possibility that the internet might be fragmented and governed by separate regulations — such as those in the U.S. and in China — and run by different services. If such a split were to occur, it would force technology companies to rethink their operational strategies in various markets, depending on which side each market is aligned with. 

Huawei's troubles could spell opportunity

Nokia is one of the largest telecom equipment suppliers in the world, behind market leader Huawei. As countries rush to develop and roll out their 5G infrastructure, Nokia, alongside Sweden's Ericsson and South Korea's tech titan Samsung, is set to be one of the immediate beneficiaries in a U.S.-led campaign against China's Huawei.

The Chinese tech company is at the heart of the U.S.-China tech rivalry. 

Not only is Huawei banned from participating in the 5G infrastructure in the U.S., its access to certain high-end technologies made in the U.S. or tech made using U.S. equipment, has been restricted. Washington has also urged allies to cut Huawei off from their own 5G infrastructure. Huawei is banned in Japan, Australia has barred it from selling 5G equipment and most recently, the U.K. announced it will ban the company from its 5G networks.   

Won said Nokia is supplying 5G equipment to telcos in Asia-Pacific, including South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and most recently in Singapore. "The momentum in this region for 5G is very strong and we expect this momentum will continue into 2021 and beyond," he said. 

But the Finnish firm this month suffered a setback: Reuters reported that Nokia lost out to Samsung on a $6.64 billion contract to supply 5G equipment to Verizon in the U.S.