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Nokia jumps on mobile ad-wagon

But still 'experimenting'

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Comment In its bid to bring the full internet experience to the mobile device, Nokia will need to formulate a clear strategy for mobile advertising, an important internet revenue driver, but also an area fraught with risks.

Nokia said last week it was devising a platform that would avoid the "unseemly" aspects of conventional internet advertising, but with details of this critical element of its internet services program still sketchy, the main concrete progress came with a partnership with Handmark.

Nokia is publicly cautious about mobile advertising, but clearly it will look to use its brand and handset market share to ensure its ad services become dominant before Google can formulate its own attack on the fledgling sector.

The Finnish company does now have an executive in charge of advertising – Mike Baker, who became head of Nokia Ad Business after the acquisition in September of his company Enpocket, a mobile marketing and messaging start-up that now forms the centrepiece of Nokia's activities in this field.

Baker claims it is too early to talk about competing for market share with Google, because the mobile ad space is so young, and "any company that can grow the market is a net positive for the industry".

But behind the nice phrases, Nokia will aim to control as much as possible of this activity and promises the same advantages it claims in other internet services, particularly an intimate knowledge of how to deliver content from its servers to a mobile device in a way that is attractive to users - something it claims other internet players from the PC world do not yet understand.

Nokia is planning to make advertising an integral part of its Ovi portal, the umbrella for all the web services it will offer, from Music Store to N-Gage gaming to VoIP. It will be able to tie ads to location, via its recent purchase of mapping firm Navteq, and, in future, to presence.

In this, it will face the same dilemmas as in other internet services over how to work with operators. In its self-proclaimed bid to morph into an internet company, Nokia has the opportunity to bypass cellcos and build its own brand by delivering services directly to consumers. This could relegate mobile carriers to the position of bitpipes, and their situation will be worsened by the rise of open access and Wi-Fi phones in some regions.

However, the cellcos will remain Nokia's largest customers for many years to come, and it will need to tread a careful balance between building up its own direct offerings and hosting services for cellcos.

This is even more delicate in advertising as some operators are very concerned about the risk of ads alienating customers and increasing churn. "We've all seen some unseemly approaches taken online," said Baker in an interview on taking his new role. "Nokia, above all, is interested in the sanctity of the user experience."

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