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Nokia hang-up hampers Verizon plans

Verizon Wireless is reconsidering whether it should sell the phone maker's handsets in light of a glitch that may prevent connections to its planned high-speed network.

Verizon Wireless is reconsidering whether it should sell Nokia handsets to its customers in light of a software glitch that may prevent some phones from connecting to the high-speed network Verizon will introduce later this year.

But Sprint PCS, another U.S. carrier building a similar system, said the company isn't fazed by the Finnish phone maker's flub and would even help fix the problem for Nokia. For its part, Nokia insists the glitch will be easy to fix.

Both carriers were reacting to admissions this week from Nokia, which acknowledged that some phones now in the hands of millions of U.S. consumers will not work on the high-speed networks that both Sprint and Verizon will unveil by year's end, as reported by CNET News.com. Both networks are based on a standard known as CDMA (code division multiple access).

If Nokia is right, the glitch will be corrected and looked back upon as just a tiny speed bump in North America's travels toward implementing the much-anticipated 3G, or third-generation, phone networks. But if they are wrong, the problem could be disastrous.

"This is a serious issue," Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace said.

These next-generation networks will offer customers the ability to use their phones to check e-mail or watch videos, all at broadband speeds. Many service providers have pinned much of their future revenue hopes on these networks and have spent billions building them and buying the radio frequencies needed.

Verizon, which has 27.5 million voice and data customers, didn't divulge how many of the handsets had been sold or how many it had in its inventory. Nokia also didn't provide an exact number of phones it sold to Verizon.

On Wednesday, a Nokia spokeswoman said a software patch that fixes the problem is being tested and likely will be available in a number of days. It should take about three weeks to install the patch into a carrier's network, she said.

Despite assurances from Nokia, Verizon's Gerace said the glitch is still a "serious issue" that has the company considering whether it should be selling Nokia handsets in the future.

"We're not happy that the phones we currently have and the phones we have sold are not compatible," Gerace said. "One phone not working when we turn on (the new system) is too much for us."

Since last summer, Verizon has been selling Nokia's 5185 phone, which is designed to work on a system using the CDMA standard. The 5185 is one of the phones Nokia said has a software problem.

These same phones were never intended to be the phone of choice for the higher-speed network, according to the company. There are other phones on the way. But because the 5185 is already in the hands of a large number of Verizon customers, it's imperative that they work on the new system being installed, Gerace said.

Nokia phones aren't the only ones that Verizon sells. Phones from several other manufacturers, including Kyocera and Motorola, are working on the new network, Gerace said.

Sprint PCS, on the other hand, wasn't ruffled by the Nokia glitch.

It too is building a high-speed network that uses the CDMA standard, and the company acknowledged the glitch could affect their customers. But the error is "a nonissue," according to the company, and Sprint said it would be more than willing to do much of the work to fix the problem to keep its customers happy.

Nokia said work on the software patch is under way.

Megan Matthews, a spokeswoman for Nokia, said company engineers are testing software that will make the phones work on the system. It should be ready soon. Some of Nokia's telephone service provider customers have already successfully tested the software, she said.

After its release, she said, carriers will need about three weeks to install it into their networks. Matthews said any delays would be minor when considering that--with the exception of Verizon and Sprint--other U.S. carriers aren't going to introduce a higher-speed network until sometime next year.