Cell Phones take over Lumber
The wireless revolution has made the world twirl a little faster and no country is spinning more than Finland.
Only 25 years ago the far-flung nation of 5 million was heavily dependent on erratic resource industries like lumber and mining. Today it is the home base of US$28-billion Nokia, the world's largest mobile-phone company.
It's hard to overemphasize the 60,000-employee company's importance in Finland's economy and politics. With Nokia responsible for 15 percent of Finnish exports and up to half of gross domestic product growth last year, the entire country is close to being a company town.
Nokia, founded as a lumber mill in 1865 on the Nokia River, had grown into a lumbering Finnish conglomerate by the 1970s, making everything from rubber boots to cables, toilet paper and televisions.
Generous Scandinavian-style government grants helped egg it into the high-tech age. An explosion in cellphone sales caused Nokia's sales to quadruple between 1997 and 2001. Today, the company makes 400 million cellphones a year and has 35 percent of the world's market.
No one has taken to mobile phones more than the Finns themselves. Eighty percent own at least one and Finns have dubbed cellphones "yuppie teddy bears." But the fate of Nokia has become so closely intertwined with that of Finland's economy, some analysts and Finns are worried. The questions have grown since the dot.com meltdown, which cut deeply into cellphone sales and forced Nokia's Swedish rival Ericsson out of the business altogether.
Finland's economy contracted in the first quarter of 2002, largely due to slumping telecommunications sales. Now that cellphones have saturated markets, many users are switching to second-hand sets and avoiding prepaid services.
Nokia has scrambled to keep up by dreaming up a catalogue of new and more complex wireless devices, with mixed results.
Whatever its fate, Nokia's current travails are an important cautionary tale about how entire national economies, even thriving ones like Finland's, can collide on the shores of globalization with unfortunate results.