M&A Mobile

Nokia No. 1 in Japan! – Panasonic to sell mobile phone base station division to Nokia

Nokia strengthens No. 1 market position in Japan’s mobile phone base station market!

Japan’s mobile phone base station market

Japan’s mobile phone base station market is about US$ 2.6 billion/year and for European companies Ericsson and Nokia the most important market globally, although certainly also the most difficult one.

Nokia is No. 1 with a 26% market share, and Panasonic is No. 5 with 9% market share.

European investments in Japan

Nokia acquiring Panasonic’s network division is one of many investments and acquisitions in Japan by European companies. For more details, see the EU-Japan M&A register.

Panasonic to focus on core business, Nokia to expand market share in Japan

Panasonic, after years of weak financial performance, is focusing on core business. Nikkei reports that Panasonic is planning to sell the base station division, Panasonic System Networks, to Nokia.

Succeeding in Japan at the second try, learning from initial failure:

We see a pattern here: after failing spectacularly trying to build a mobile phone business in Japan for almost 20 years without success, Nokia is now winning the second time round.

It can be hard for foreign companies to build a business in Japan, and many fail. Interestingly, there is a long list of famous companies that succeed on their second attempt after initial failure, this list includes:

  • IKEA: failed first time in 1974, succeeds now
  • DAIMLER: failed spectacularly first time with Mitsubishi Motors, now successful with Mitsubishi Fuso trucks – read the time line here
  • NOKIA: failed first time after trying for 20 years (1989-2008) to sell mobile phones in Japan, now successful with mobile phone base stations and network infrastructure

Read a detailed timeline in The EU-Japan Investment Register.

Nokia expands No. 1 position in Japan

Our analysis of Japan’s mobile phone base station market shows, that Nokia became No. 1 in Japan’s base station market with the acquisition of Motorola’s base station division. Acquisition of Panasonic System Networks will expand Nokia’s NSN to expand market leadership in Japan’s mobile phone base station market.

I believe without success in Japan’s mobile phone base station market, there is a big chance Nokia as a company, or at least Nokia’s NSN division would not exist any more at all today.

With a market share of 26%, approx. US$ 700 annual sales in Japan, Nokia is No. 1 market leader in Japan followed by Ericsson on 2nd position. With the acquisition of Panasonic’s base station division, Nokia should be able to expand its market share beyond 26%+9% = 35% and expand its leadership, especially via Panasonic’s deep relationship with Docomo.

Because Docomo with its very deep pockets, is traditionally the first globally to develop and bring to market the most advanced radio technologies, a deeper relationship with Docomo will also help Nokia to develop and bring to market new communication and radio technologies. Thus I believe the impact on Nokia will be far more than an increase of the market share in Japan from 26% to 35%.

Panasonic System Networks

Panasonic System Network’s market share is estimated at around 9% of Japan’s mobile phone base station market, while international sales are essentially non-existent. Thus Panasonic System Network’s global market share is negligible, giving Panasonic little possibility for the scale necessary to operate a stable profitable longterm base station business.

Japan’s mobile phone handset makers and base station makers have for many years focused on serving Japan’s internal market only, and in particular have focused on Japan’s No. 1 mobile phone operators NTT Docomo. This gave Japan’s mobile phone base station makers a temporary home advantage, however with the value shift from hardware to software, they lack scale, and are subsequently uncompetitive globally. More about Japan’s Galapagos effect here.

Over the last 15 years since 1998, Panasonic has shown no growth in revenues, and average net losses of YEN 85 billion (US$ 0.85 billion) per year, as typical for most of Japan’s top 8 electronics companies and as we analyze in detail in our report on Japan’s Electronics Industries.

Panasonic is on 5th rank with about 9% market share in Japan’s mobile phone base station markets, and has little chance and not the capital to scale its base station and mobile phone businesses globally. For Panasonic in it’s current very limited financial situation, focus on core business areas is very prudent.

The context: EU investments in Japan

While Japanese investments in Europe are booming, recently European investments in Japan have been stagnating after Vodafone’s withdrawal from Japan, and there are very few new European investments in Japan. Could it be that Nokia’s investment in Japan starts a new trend of renewed European investments in Japan?

Understand Japan’s telecommunications markets

Report on Japan’s telecommunications industry
(approx. 270 pages, pdf file)

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