Nokia is making changes to how it handles mobile network sites in the U.S., bringing deployment services in-house instead of through its wholly-owned subsidiary SAC Wireless.

SAC Wireless, acquired by Nokia in 2014, has worked alongside the vendor on “countless projects” but it now makes sense to bring delivery services inside, according to Ed Alfonso, EVP and GM of Nokia America’s Mobile Networks. Operating independently, SAC has helped facilitate 5G deployments for customers including  AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, according to its website.

SAC is still going to handle tower work and site acquisition, including zoning and permitting (Z&P), and architecture and engineering (A&E) for service provider customers. Nokia, meanwhile, will handle equipment, software, logistics, implementation and maintenance – providing a single point of contact, which Alfonso said is something customers were asking for.

“Our global priority is to simplify the customer experience, and this move does exactly that,” he told Fierce via email.   

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In addition to core tower services, SAC had supported program management for major wireless carriers and certain regional ones, including business development, pre-sales, national project management and customer delivery. Alfonso said SAC also provided talent and recruiting services for Nokia.

The change moves procurement and vendor management into a single team, he added.

SAC will still provide end-to-end deployment services for “new verticals that they are best equipped to handle,” particularly customers that want an OEM-agnostic partner.  

Expands Nokia’s deployment services team

The change is going to expand Nokia’s existing in-house team within the Mobile Networks business unit.

“Moving all of deployment services under one umbrella inside Nokia strengthens our customer experience and allows us to add strong talent and resources to the team,” he explained.  

That includes bringing on “many of SAC’s deployment specialists,” but Alfonso would not say how many. According to SAC’s website, it has about 2,000 employees, with the largest team of self-perform crews in the U.S.

“Our people will continue to operate in their same role, whether that be at Nokia or SAC Wireless,” Alfonso said. 

Separately, in March Nokia disclosed expectations to cut 5,000 to 10,000 jobs within two years to reduce costs while investing more in R&D and 5G.

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As responsibilities are shifted to inside Nokia, SAC management is still charged with ensuring projects are delivered. It’s just beginning phase one of the transition, with implementation happening throughout the rest of the year and continuing well into 2022, according to Alfonso.

“This strategy keeps all current projects on track while allowing both companies to best serve their customers,” he said.

Streamlining workflow

Since Nokia’s new chief executive Pekka Lundmark came on last summer, the Finnish vendor’s undergone a larger organizational reshuffle and moved away from an end-to-end product strategy.

Nokia is working to execute a turnaround after struggles over the past two years, particularly in its large mobile networks business. In North America it lost out on a $6.6 billion 5G contract with Verizon, as the operator opted for Samsung.

Refocusing on customer experience is an important objective as the company looks to regain competitive strength in 2021 and beyond.

“The industry is so competitive; it’s as important to be a company customers want to work with, and enjoy working with, as it is being a company that delivers world class products and services,” Alfonso said. “Our mission is to always be both.”

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To that end, taking on deployment services directly is meant to streamline workflow and ensure clear accountability to improve the customer experience. Internally, he said Nokia will be better equipped to quickly handle customers’ changing needs.

Alfonso added that learning from the field directly feeds into creating better products and improving serviceability, quality and sustainability.

“As these stars align, our goal is to go from the initial site walk to going online – quicker, safer, and more efficiently than ever before, often in 20 days or less,” he said.

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