Nokia returns to Israel with 3D tech acquisition

Finnish cellphone maker is rebuilding its core business; NICE systems technology is important to its effort

Two years after shuttering its research and development operations in Israel, device manufacturer Nokia is back. The Finnish phone maker announced that it has bought NICE System’s 3D geolocation technology, developed in Israel, planning to use its new facilities as a development center for automation technology and 3D modeling.

The NICE technology wasn’t specifically developed for mobile devices, but it could be easily applied to cell networks. Used mostly on local area or wireless networks, the system generates detailed 3D indoor and outdoor monitoring maps that enable engineers to pinpoint problems down to a particular floor of a building. The system analyzes and manages issues such as antenna and radio parameters, “neighbor” issues — checking what impact other networks in the area are having — and scrambling codes, which ensure that wireless connections don’t get mixed up.

The deal, announced last week, brings Nokia back to Israel after a two-year absence. In 2012, Nokia closed down its Israel R&D center. Employees of the center took it over and established a new company called Atrinet. The 25-employee company was all that was left of an R&D center that once employed nearly 500, reflecting Nokia’s drive in recent years to shed overhead by laying off thousands of workers.

Sales of devices by Nokia, once the biggest seller of cellphones in the world, have fallen precipitously in recent years. In 2007, it had over 50% of the market to itself, but by Q1 2013, that figure had fallen to 3.1%, as Apple and Android smart devices eclipsed the “old-fashioned” cellphones Nokia is known for.

Now the company is back in attack mode. “Nokia Networks intends to build up a competence center in Israel, develop its future portfolio around 3-D modeling, and increase automation in its services,” said Dror Nemirovsky, head of Ecosystem Ventures at Nokia Networks. “This is a further step in Nokia Networks’ pursuit of innovation that comes from the global community of technology companies.”

The 3D geolocation technology will help Nokia establish itself in the network deployment market, an area the company is targeting in a campaign to restore its fortunes. Cell networks are relying more than ever on small cell technology, where routers are placed in more areas to ensure greater network coverage. The routers are part of a central network, and the NICE technology will enable Nokia to pinpoint problems by generating real-time 3D activity maps that show which routers are not working properly.

To further boost its capabilities in network deployment, the company also announced last week that it was buying US-based SAC Wireless, an installer of wireless network equipment.

“NICE is very pleased with this new engagement with Nokia Networks,” said Yaron Tchwella, president of NICE Security Group. “Nokia Networks is one of the leading mobile broadband service providers for telecom operators worldwide, and with this arrangement, our unique 3-D solution will now be made available for a much larger installed base.”

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