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Nokia's CDMA Renaissance?

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)'s 15-year patent agreement with Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) could once again open up the North American market for the Finnish phone giant, analysts suggest.

Since 2005, Qualcomm and Nokia have been sparring over patents and royalty rates related to CDMA and GSM. The agreement announced today between the pair drops Nokia's complaint to the European Commission as well as several lawsuits in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Nokia is the No. 1 phone vendor in the world with more than 40 percent market share, but it's been struggling in North America for several years, in part due to a lack of CDMA products. There are two major CDMA carriers in the U.S. -- Verizon Wireless and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) -- and 100 million wireless subscribers using the Qualcomm-developed technology.

"The reason they [Nokia] got out of CDMA in the first place is basically because of the Qualcomm suit," says Jack Gold at J.Gold Associates. "Now they are free to do what they want, where they want."

That could mean low-end CDMA phones in China and India as well as higher-end products in the United States. Analyst Carmi Levy at AR Communications Inc. suggests that next-generation technology, rather than a straightforward re-introduction of CDMA-based products, will be the North American focus.

"I think the CDMA battle in North America is over," he claims, suggesting Nokia will focus on new markets like Verizon's planned 2010 deployment of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology. (See Verizon Goes LTE.)

"Verizon is too big for Nokia to ignore," Gold agrees. Verizon has 68 million U.S. subscribers, making it the country's second-ranked cellular carrier.

The patent agreement will still be helpful to Nokia as the market moves towards fourth generation (4G) technology, Levy suggests, because Qualcomm still holds relevant patents there. Most of these relate to orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), the radio technology that underpins all 4G networks. (See Qualcomm Buys Into Mobile WiMax.)

Nokia hasn't returned Unstrung's calls about potential new roadmap additions for North America.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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