Rivals may block Nokia's move to control Symbian

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The Independent Online

Nokia's plans to grab a majority stake in Symbian look set to be frustrated as rival shareholders in the mobile phone technology company prepare to exercise rights to increase their stakes.

Shareholders in Symbian said yesterday that they were holding talks about increasing their stakes and taking up their pre-emption rights.

Peter Bodor, a spokesman for Sony Ericsson, said: "We are discussing increasing our shareholding through pre-emption rights. We are talking amongst ourselves internally and also with other Symbian shareholders.''

Sony Ericsson has a total shareholding of 19 per cent in Symbian, split between Ericsson and its Sony Ericsson joint venture.

There has been speculation that Nokia's recent move to own two thirds of Symbian could prove unpopular among other handset manufacturers which are also Symbian shareholders. These shareholders also include Panasonic and Samsung.

Symbian makes the software operating systems for a number of competing mobile phone manufacturers, several of which are Symbian shareholders as well.

However, Nokia will not be able to gain management control of the company under its corporate governance rules. For a shareholder to force through changes at Symbian it would need 70 per cent of the shares. Even if none of the other Symbian shareholders took up their rights, Nokia would still control only 63.3 per cent of the business.

Speaking at the 3 GSM mobile phone conference in Cannes yesterday, David Levin, the chief executive of Symbian, said: "There are very positive sounds from the shareholders but I don't think any of them have shown their hand at the moment.

"This (the Nokia deal) is not a completed deal, it requires certain regulatory approvals and it also depends on the pre-emption rights taken.''

Mr Levin was commenting as he unveiled results for 2003 which showed that worldwide shipments of Symbian-based mobile phones reached 2.76 million in the final quarter of 2003 compared with 980,000 in the final quarter of 2002.

Total shipments of Symbian-based phones for 2003 reached 6.67 million. December proved to be the first month in which more than one million Symbian based phones were shipped.

Mr Levin said: "Symbian saw continued good progress during the final quarter of 2003. At the same time we crossed the 10 million unit mark for cumulative shipments. The market for Symbian products is experiencing encouraging growth, albeit from a small base relative to the size of the overall phone market. The longer-term prospects for Symbian are positive but at this early stage of market development they remain subject to considerable uncertainty.''