Cingular to sell Nokia e-mail phone

Nokia, the world’s mobile phone leader, said on Wednesday No. 1 U.S. mobile service Cingular Wireless will sell Nokia’s top-of-the line computer phone and BlackBerry e-mail pager. The deal with Cingular gives Nokia’s 9300 line of phones a leg into the U.S. market, where rival Palm’s Treos and BlackBerry phones from Canada’s Research In Motion are in hot demand among business professionals.

It also helps raise the profile of Finland’s Nokia in a region where it trails Motorola, the No. 2 maker of mobile handsets worldwide but the leading U.S. supplier. “This is extremely important. This takes them out of the airplane magazine and into a great distribution channel,” Yankee Group analyst John Jackson said. But Jackson added that the device’s success would depend largely on how aggressively Cingular promotes it to its business customers. “It’s not something that’s going to fly off retail shelves,” he said.

Nokia’s 9300 phone, which was introduced earlier this year and is part of a line that has long been available in Europe, is sleeker and more compact than a bulky predecessor nicknamed “the brick.”

The device will include Research In Motion’s popular Blackberry e-mail software in a bid to compete against an upcoming Treo phone that will run Microsoft software. It also will compete against the Motorola Q, an ultra-slim device due later this year that also uses Microsoft software. Nokia’s 9300 is based on software from Symbian, a European-centered consortium that is controlled by Nokia.

Analysts forecast more than 20 million computer-like phones will be sold this year, a tiny fraction of the more than 700 million mobile phones expected to be sold during the same period. But this so-called “smartphone” category is expected to grow rapidly to 170 million units a year in about five years. Cingular is the wireless venture of SBC Communications and BellSouth.

Its biggest rival Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group, said this week it would sell the new Treo, which will ship early next year.

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