You might be surprised to hear that Nokia is a company from Finland.

What no-one has probably heard is that there's another mobile phone company from Finland too: Benefon, from Salo.

So they're not gorilla-sized like the Big N. So they don't make a profit and never might. So they missed out on the GSM technology by some 3 years. So they still release new NMT phones.

So what?

They also make some of the coolest gizmatics around! Mobile handsets that combine GPS locations services and other neat wonders are the stock and trade for Benefon. If Nokia is fast-food, then Benefon's models like Esc!, Io, Twin, etc are à la carte. Of course, being small and exotic has its down-sides too. Benefon has had trouble staying afloat, getting new models to the markets in time and taking over the world. I wish them luck!

Update (01/2007):

Benefon is still around although incresingly in deep water due to its disasterous financial performances. After countless reorgs, finance rounds, ownership changes, etc, the company is currently positioning itself into location aware products. Its current range provides products combining GPS and GSM functionality for navigation, communication and security for both consumers and various industries.

The future looks uncertain for Benefon.

Quick! Think of... Nope, it's not what you think -- this is the story of Benefon, the Nokia that never was.

Benefon likes to trace its history back to the 1928 Nordell & Koskinen radio factory, but this entity (rebranded Salora)was soon swallowed up by Nokia (a rubber and plastics conglomerate at the time). However, Salora got into building ARP phones in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, it was time for GSM's predecessor NMT. This was when Jorma Nieminen and two buddies made the first of many bad decisions -- not liking the way Nokia was shaping up, they decided start their own company, namely Benefon. (At the time, Jorma was the head of Nokia's mobile phones department, and he would doubtless be a multimillionaire now had he stayed on.)

After two years of development Benefon launched its Benefon Forte phone for the NMT450 network, and it proved to be Benefon's first (and last) hit. Overengineered to withstand anything and equipped with a powerful antenna and transmitter, the phone found a niche operating on the edges of networks and remained heavily used in shipping to this day, since higher-frequency GSM coverage does not extend out to the sea. The phone was manufactured for no less than eleven years until 2000, probably a record.

Alas, it was all downhill from there. While its NMT phones like the Max and its modern-day successors Dragon and Exion continue to fill their small niche (esp. in Russia and the Ukraine, where NMT remains popular), Benefon had serious trouble expanding beyond it. In 1996 Benefon introduced the Alfa, Beta and Delta NMT900 phones for the ordinary consumer, but Nokia was already well on its way to world domination with classic GSM phones like the Nokia 1610. Benefon's first GSM phone, the 1997 Benefon Gamma, was horribly buggy and unintuitive, and despite a frenzy of new models Benefon's occasional technical innovations, like being the first to adopt T9 shortcuts in the Benefon iO, never succeeded in outweighing the clunky styling, poor usability and high price tag.

As the millennium drew to a close Benefon started to approach bankruptcy, so they finally realized that their 400 employees could not hope to compete against the likes of Nokia and Sony. Instead, Benefon set out to conquer a niche -- location services. The 1999 Benefon Esc was the world's first "instrument" (Benefon's term, not mine) to marry a GPS receiver with a GSM phone, a theme they have explored in many phones afterward. Benefon allied itself with Finnish orienteering and dive computer manufacturer Suunto to produce the Suunto NaviCom aka Benefon Esc!, a phone that can download maps and show your position in realtime on its huge LCD display, but after a loud public spat in 2000 the two broke off and the Esc! finally limped into stores over a year late. It's still a neat idea, but the fearsome price tag of nearly $1000 is just too much for most people.

As of March 2002, Benefon is once again veering on the edge of bankruptcy. Their WAP phone Benefon Q has (for once) gotten praise for its sleek styling and ability to read POP3 mailboxes off the net, but evidently sales for the Q or the GSM models still haven't been sufficient and the future of the self-proclaimed "world's smallest mobile phone manufacturer" remains highly doubtful.

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