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Nokia’s Collapse Turned a Sleepy Town in Finland Into an Internet Wonderland

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In the early days of the mobile phone, Nokia was everywhere—ubiquitous, inescapable, supreme. It created the best-selling 1100, with a keypad like droplets of water; the gray-blue 3310; even the cutting-edge 8810, with a slip-sliding protective cover that felt like the future. You always remember your first: For many people, one of these phones, pre-loaded with the game Snake (or its illustrious successor, Snake II) and the OG ringtone, was it. In 2009, at its peak, Nokia was the 85th largest company in the world.

Today, the firm is doing just fine, though its primary money-makers are less obvious than they once were. The Finnish giant now derives most of its income from those invisible elements of the mobile internet that allow you to access an infinite repository of information from almost anywhere in the world: routers, network processors, base station radio access units, and other whizz-bang components. In 2018, with revenue of €23 billion, Nokia dropped to 466th place.

The transition from handset juggernaut to invisible technological unguent was not without casualties. Over nine years of downsizing, the company lost its handset business; eliminated thousands of jobs; and saw millions down the drain. 

The Finnish town of Oulu, with a present-day population of around 200,000 at the time this article was written in 2019, looked like another certain victim. Formerly a quiet lumber town, it had been buoyed by the rise of Nokia, becoming a regional tech powerhouse in the process. By 2000, the so-called “Oulu miracle” had hit its stride, with more than 15,000 IT jobs in the city. But Nokia’s travails became the town’s: Between 2009 and 2011, the company cut more than 1,000 Oulu jobs, many of which were related to its handset business. Five years later, another 1,000 positions followed.    

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a unique building alonside a vast shoreline

Photo by Natasha Frost

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