Nokia Off to Great Start, Has Already Sold Millions of Windows Phone Handsets

A Bloomberg survey of more than 22 analysts suggests that Nokia's late-2011 entry into the Windows Phone market is a success: The Finnish company sold as many as 2 million handsets between November and December 2011 alone, despite sales being limited geographically mostly to Europe. And with Nokia's US phones just now hitting the market, the once-struggling mobile firm has apparently found its feet.

"The numbers look promising," a fund manager told Bloomberg. "If Nokia is able to have a strong launch and surpass at least 1 million [units sold] and keep that type of momentum, this would help put them in a credible position that is crucial to winning back investors."

According to the analysts polled by Bloomberg, Nokia sold at least 1 million Windows Phone handsets, mostly in Europe, in November and December 2011, and as many as 2 million units. Only one of the analysts believed the figure to be below 1 million units, and the average figure was 1.3 million. Analysts say that sales of just half a million would have been acceptable given the newness of the designs and the short time in market. But all agreed that Nokia had smashed past that milestone easily.

What's particularly amazing about these numbers is that Nokia offered only two handsets in late 2011—the Lumia 800 and 710—and neither was considered a "gotta-have-it" device. But Nokia's first Windows Phone-based "hero" phone, the Lumia 900, goes on sale in the United States on AT&T Wireless on March 18. This phone has gotten the attention of analysts and potential customers alike and is clearly seen as a driver of new sales. And the surveyed analysts now expect Nokia to sell an average of 3.2 million Lumia handset in the current quarter. (Estimates range from 1.5 million to 6 million.)

Nokia hasn't provided any official numbers yet, but the company's stock has gained 15 percent since the start of the new year, after falling 52 percent throughout 2011. 

Of course, Nokia's successes are relative. Apple might have sold as many as 30 million iPhones in the last quarter of 2011, a unit sales pace that would give it as much as a 5-to-1 lead over Nokia. But Apple benefited from a new product launch, and of course Nokia's phones were available in only some regions.

Too, some will no doubt point out that Nokia's sales do not represent "sales to end users" but rather sales into the channel. This is the same argument that Microsoft's detractors make against Windows license sales, of course, and in both cases it misrepresents how companies register sales of their products. To be clear, Bloomberg did ask analysts how many devices they believe Nokia had "sold ... globally to operators and retailers ... last year." That is indeed how Nokia sells devices, to operators and retailers, and not generally to end users directly.

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