Siemens to develop Net phone

SIEMENS, THE German electronics giant, is close to a deal with a major software group that would allow it to join the race to supply mobile phones capable of Internet access.

The company is in talks with US firms Microsoft and Sun as well as Symbian, the joint venture involving Psion, the handheld computer maker, about using their software in mobile Internet terminals. An announcement is expected within the next few months. Discussions are thought to include the possibility of Siemens joining Symbian, whose shareholders include Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson, the world's leading mobile phone supplier.

A joint venture with Sun, which is keen to promote its Java software as an operating system, is also a possibility.

The news emerged as Siemens launched a new information and communications division in an attempt to make up the ground it has lost on its competitors in the exploding markets for hi-tech products.

Volker Jung, the Siemens director in charge of the division, said the company was poised to unveil a series of partnerships and joint ventures. "We are planning partnerships to achieve global presence," Dr Jung said. However, he insisted that the company would not be pushed into making large acquisitions.

In an echo of recent warnings made by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Mr Jung said hi-tech stocks were overvalued. "We are not willing to pay an unbelievable amount of money for bubbles," he said.

"If I had paid $20bn for a company with $1.5bn of sales I would not have survived at Siemens," he added, referring to the recent acquisition of Ascent Communications, the network equipment firm by Lucent, the US telecommunications equipment giant.

Siemens' move into mobile terminals follows an alliance between Microsoft and British Telecom, announced on Monday, to trial Microsoft's Windows CE operating system on mobile phones.

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