It may have seemed the end of an era when the deal that saw Nokia selling off its Devices and Services division to Microsoft finally closed last year, but in many ways the Nokia that fans knew and loved was already gone by that point. While the company may not be poised for a comeback, it has been more active recently than it has been in quite some time.

Last week we reported on Nokia's announcement that it was purchasing Alcatel-Lucent for $16.6 billion as part of its plans to pursue 5G network communications. While we mentioned that this wasn't a way for the company to get back to selling smartphones, it seems that Nokia may have had that in mind after all.

Two sources familiar with the company's plans have said that Nokia could be returning to the smartphone market as early as next year. "They have a lot of great stuff in development," former Nokia executive Richard Kerris told Recode. "It gave me complete confidence that Nokia is a company that is not going away."

Related: Nokia's serious about 5G, acquires Alcatel-Lucent to boost development

It's likely that a future smartphone would be manufactured by a third-party partner and branded with the Nokia name, similar to last year's Nokia N1 tablet. After the sale to Microsoft, Nokia simply doesn't have the means to manufacture its own hardware, and it doesn't seem that the company is eager to.

The plan seems fairly simple: design the products, then let another company deal with manufacturing, sales, and distribution. This is similar to the approach that companies like Kodak and Polaroid have used, and something that Nokia's Ramzi Haidamus, has already talked about, as The Verge points out.

Don't expect to see a Nokia-branded phone anytime soon. While its tablet was able to slip under the radar, Nokia is restricted from using its brand name on phones until Q4, 2016. Microsoft may not be using the Nokia name anymore, but it doesn't want any confusion.

These development may not signal a return to the heyday of Nokia' candy bar phones, but it will be interesting to see where this goes.