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Nokia gets a BEAD on US fibre

Nokia is to start making fibre broadband kit in the US in a bid to get in on the action of one of the government's major, multi-billion-dollar funding drives.

Mary Lennighan

August 4, 2023

3 Min Read

Nokia is to start making fibre broadband kit in the US in a bid to get in on the action of one of the government’s major, multi-billion-dollar funding drives.

The Finnish kit maker is partnering with Sanmina Corporation to manufacture a number of fibre-optic broadband products at the latter’s facility in Wisconsin, bringing with it up to 200 new jobs, it claims. The products in question will include an Optical Line Termination card for a modular Access Node, a small form factor OLT, OLT optical modules, and an outdoor-hardened Optical Network Terminal (ONT).

By manufacturing fibre equipment in the US, Nokia will be able to supply products and services to projects like the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) programme. And given the size of BEAD, that could be quite the money-spinner.

The US government unveiled the project, administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), just over a year ago with the goal of expanding access to high-speed Internet. It recently revealed how the $42.45 billion of funding will be split between the states, based on need; determined by a series of coverage maps, essentially. It will then be the job of the individual states to administer grants to eligible recipients, including the states themselves, tribes, local governments, service providers, nonprofits, and others.

But a key part of BEAD is its Buy American element. US president Joe Biden referred to Internet for All, the umbrella term for the government’s Internet expansion goals – there are numerous funding projects on the go, including BEAD, RDOF and the Middle Mile programme – in his State of the Union address at the start of the year, and highlighted his desire to use locally-made equipment.

“When we do these projects – and, again, I get criticized about this, but I make no excuses for it – we’re going to buy American,” the president said, according to an official transcript of the speech.

The NTIA subsequently doubled down on that.

“Internet for All will create as many as 150,000 jobs nationwide – but to maximize the economic potential of this initiative, manufacturers and Internet service providers will need to build right here in America,” the NTIA said in a blog post in February.

While it has provided waivers in the past, the organisation made it clear that it sees no need to do so going forward, in the areas of fibre-optic optic glass or cable, at least. “Our expectation is that industry will be able to produce enough quantity to satisfy the demand from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program over the coming years.”

Hence Nokia’s new manufacturing plan.

“By bringing the manufacturing of our fibre-optic broadband access products to the US, BEAD participants will be able to work with us to bridge the digital divide. We look forward to bringing more Americans online,” Nokia said in a statement. It also included canned quotes from Vice President Kamala Harris and US Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, but – unsurprisingly – they focus squarely on the government’s endeavours in high-speed broadband rather than the Nokia announcement specifically.

“By continuing to invest in domestic manufacturing, Nokia and Sanmina will be able to help create a sustainable future for the industry, one that drives job growth and ensures the fibre products produced embody the quality and excellence associated with American manufacturing,” added Sanmina CEO Jure Sola.

Naturally, the focus here is squarely on the socio-economic benefits of bridging the digital divide and bringing high-speed Internet to more people. But this announcement is really all about Nokia sniffing out a potentially lucrative business opportunity and brokering a manufacturing partnership deal in order to capture it.

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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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