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Nokia CEO: Company To Step Up Investment In Mapping Business

By Sven Grundberg Ailing Finnish handset maker Nokia Corp. (NOK1V.HE) will step up investment in its digital mapping business, using the unit's leading-edge technology to differentiate itself from competitors as it seeks to regain lost ground. Nokia's Chief Executive Stephen Elop, who is struggling with Nokia's difficult transition from its home-spun Symbian phone operating software to Microsoft's new Windows Phone software, described the imminent launch of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) next version of the Windows operating system, Windows 8, as an important step for Nokia. He added that Nokia's digital mapping business will be an essential part of the Windows 8 operating system. "Microsoft has a critical dependency on Nokia when it comes to location-based services," Mr. Elop said Thursday during a conference call with investors. Digital mapping and location technology is increasingly grabbing the attention of the world's dominant technology firms, Mr. Elop said, adding that its competitors are "making a lot of noise about an area in which Nokia has already invested for a long time." "We think we have the best location assets by far compared with [the] competition," said Mr. Elop. Four years ago Nokia acquired Navteq--a company that provides the underlying digital mapping information that is used by GPS navigation devices and Internet services--in an $8.1 billion transaction. Several portable GPS devices made by companies such as Garmin Ltd. (GRMN), as well as Web-based map applications, including those of Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) and Microsoft's Bing Maps, use Navteq's platform today. Nokia has recently launched a number of upgrades to its own mapping applications, which include Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps. In November last year, Nokia also launched a public transport application for its smartphones, that provides public transport information for many cities around the world. While Navteq is one of the most widely used digital mapping platforms, Google Inc. (GOOG) has dominated smartphone navigation on mobile devices until now. Its Google Maps software runs on its own Android operating system for mobile phones and on the current version of Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iOS. Dutch navigation system maker TomTom NV (TOM2.AE) provides maps for Google, but the deal, forged four years ago, runs out in a year's time as the Mountain View, California-based company is building up its own map base. Last week, Apple announced that it will ditch Google Maps, as it forged a deal with TomTom for mapping services in the next version of the software powering its iPhones and iPads. --Archibald Preuschat contributed to this article Write to Sven Grundberg at sven.grundberg@dowjones.com

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