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Sierra smart phone debuts in Europe

New phone uses Microsoft software and will make its U.S. arrival within next two weeks, a move that puts pressure on Nokia.

Dutch carrier KPN on Tuesday began selling a new cell phone in Europe that uses Microsoft software, a move that could put pressure on handset maker Nokia.

The phone, Sierra Wireless' Voq Professional Phone, will make its debut in the United States on AT&T Wireless' network in the next two weeks, according to a Sierra Wireless representative. The phone will be distributed to retail stores and possibly carriers by Brightpoint North America, a subsidiary of Brightpoint.

The Voq phone sells for $121 at KPN, but only after signing a long-term service contract. A Sierra Wireless representative would not reveal what the phone will cost in the United States. Its suggested retail price is $200 to $400.

The commercial debut of the Voq phone gives Microsoft a boost in the intensely competitive market for smart phones, which are cellular handsets that are capable of PDA-like features that can synchronize easily with desktops to view contacts, calendars and other listings.

Microsoft's main competitor in the market is Symbian, a smart-phone operating system maker founded by major handset makers. Nokia is close to having financial control over Symbian.

Symbian currently dominates the market for smart-phone operating systems, but analysts expect Microsoft to ramp up the competition through the decade's end.

For now, neither company has seen a huge payoff from the market. Smart phones claimed just 1.7 percent of the worldwide cell phone market in the second quarter of 2003. Nokia was the leader in smart phones, with 1.2 million units shipped. Sony Ericsson was in second place, with 200,000 units shipped.