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Nokia Australia to fix defective phones

After a year of denying any problems with the 8210 model handsets, the company says it will repair for free any that have had problems.

    Nokia Australia has moved to appease angry customers and the NSW Department of Fair Trading after the mobile phone maker admitted to selling defective handsets to consumers.

    After negotiating with the NSW Department of Fair Trading, Nokia has placed advertisements in major newspapers inviting customers who have experienced problems with its 8210 model handset to have them repaired free of charge and be issued with a new 12-month warranty.

    The manufacturer must also strengthen its quality assurance for consumers. Nokia has entered a legal agreement with the department whereby it must comply with several International Standards Organizations agreements.

    Nokia has also agreed to write to Fair Trading agencies in other states and to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to advise them of its agreement with the department.

    In related news, Nokia said that some other handsets that had faulty screens were sold in the United States late last year. The company said the "problems are under control," although a smattering of faulty phones are still surfacing in the Americas.

    The department hasn't officially called the Nokia 8210 action a recall, but that was the file name given to the Word document sent from the office of NSW Fair Trading Minister John Aqualina on Tuesday morning.

    "No it's not a recall. A recall is where the entire product is recalled," said Wayne Watson, spokesman for the Department of Fair Trading. "This is merely a situation where Nokia has given an undertaking to us that they will repair any phones that are defective or happen to have that defective part."

    Watson said that there had been some internal confusion over what to call the action until the department's investigators stepped in to clarify the matter.

    Problems last year
    Consumers, wholesalers and phone repairers who handle Nokia products have been outraged at Nokia's tight-lipped approach to the issue before its admission in late March that the 8210 screens carried a defective component.

    Late last year, a flood of angry Nokia customers posted complaints on the Web regarding Nokia handsets, saying the displays carried inherent defects. At the time, Nokia maintained that the high volume of complaints regarding the 8210 handset was due to its dominant position in the market.

    "Due to our leading market position, the absolute amount of these may appear higher than smaller brands, but we are confident that, in relative terms, Nokia products are as good as any in the industry," the company said in a statement in November.

    For Nokia, the investigation of the matter is over, but it still hasn't supplied an answer regarding the extent of the problem.

    Some or all are faulty?
    Nokia maintains that the manufacturing problems are limited to a batch of Nokia 8210s produced between October 2001 and January of this year.

    "That has been investigated, and the particular component with the issue was confined to this batch we've stopped using, and the component supplier is paying for the costs of this," said Nokia spokesman Antony Wilson.

    However Nokia's position is at odds with facts discovered by the NSW Department of Fair Trading, and the repair offer extends to all 8210s ever sold in Australia. Watson said that Fair Trading began its investigation Sept. 4, 2001--one month before the batch of 8210s Nokia claims the fault was isolated to was manufactured.

    Late last year a former employee of the company alleged that the problem could extend back to models manufactured as long as five years ago.

    Nokia said it doesn't know if the supplier who manufactured the faulty component in the Nokia 8210 supplied parts to other phones in its range.

    The NSW Department of Fair Trading said that it has done the best job it can for consumers. "We've reached an agreement with Nokia whereby all of the consumers who have a difficulty with this phone will get it repaired free of charge. There's no consumer detriment because of this undertaking.

    "What more could we have done?"

    Andrew Colley reported from Sydney.'s Ben Charny contributed to this report.