Ovi & Nokia's Future is in the Developing World

nokian97.jpgNokia (s nok) said today that more than a million users have signed up for its free mobile- and web-based email service, Ovi Mail, over the last six months. Designed for those without access to a PC, notably residents of developing countries, this uptake makes clear the increasing importance of mobile phones when it comes to accessing the web. The victory for Nokia, unfortunately, is somewhat bittersweet.

As Stacey has written, the future of the Internet looks increasingly mobile as three-quarters of the population will have access to mobile broadband in less than four years. Both Vodafone and Google (s goog) see mobile phones as a gateway to get more people from developing regions on the web. In June, Google released three SMS-based mobile applications in Africa that allow people to access web information on their phones.

But the developing world’s love affair with Nokia’s cheap mobile phones and free Ovi email service hasn’t translated into high margins for the handset maker. While sales of its lower-end mobile phones continue to soar worldwide, Nokia’s smartphone sales lag behind — as do its profits. Until Nokia finds a way to boost its smartphone sales, high sales of its cheap mobile phones won’t be enough to pull the handset maker out of its financial slump.