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Nokia plans N-Gage redesigns, considers CDMA

Mobile giant plans new designs for video-game cell phone.

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia is working on new designs for its N-Gage video-gaming cell phone and is considering the potential for versions running on CDMA wireless networks, the head of its gaming business said on Monday.

The company also said a price cut was in the works for the United States to spur sales of the N-Gage. Since its 2003 introduction, and even through the release of the new QD model in 2004, the N-Gage platform has suffered slow sales amid stinging criticism from the gaming community because of design flaws and quality of titles.

"We're looking at new colors, a new look and feel for the QD in the next few months," said Gerard Wiener, director and general manager of the games business program at Nokia, on the sidelines of the Game Developers Conference here.

Wiener also said new N-Gage designs were on the drawing board for the future, for the company's fight to keep up with rapid advances in audio and video quality for mobile games.

Some of those advances have to do with faster and better wireless networks. Nokia's strength, and the N-Gage's standard to date, is the wireless networking platform known as GSM.

But in the United States and parts of Asia, a competing standard called CDMA dominates, and many GSM operators are upgrading their networks to a CDMA cousin called W-CDMA. Those networks will be faster than their GSM predecessors.

"There's no question addressing the CDMA market is something we'd like to be doing," Wiener said. But he was quick to add that Nokia is still debating whether to move toward the current high-speed CDMA networks in the United States and elsewhere or wait for W-CDMA to become more widespread.

"The jury is still out," he said.

A combination of factors hurt N-Gage from the start, especially in the United States: high prices, user-unfriendly design and relatively limited distribution. The QD model addressed some of those issues, but still, the N-Gage has sold just 1.5 million units to date worldwide.

"I think the breadth and scope of our retail offer was not what it needed to be to gain traction, especially in the United States," Wiener said. In future, he said, Nokia would work for tighter sales integration with the carriers.

"The timing is right for us to be pushing a little harder on the operator channel," he said.

But despite all the N-Gage's troubles Wiener pointed to some successes, including what he said was a very fast start to sales in China in the last few months.

"I don't want people, especially in my organization, to think we can't be proud of some of the things we've done," he said.

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