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Toshiba to spice up mobile devices

The Japanese manufacturer hopes to create a range of exciting new smart phones. Its first GPRS phone should go on sale this summer.

Electronics manufacturer Toshiba announced on Wednesday that it is planning to launch a range of GPRS and third-generation (3G) mobile devices. The move will put it in competition with companies such as Nokia, Sony and Ericsson.

Toshiba predicts that mobile sales over the next few years will be driven by demand for mobile services and content. Its first product, a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) device, is expected to go on sale in the middle of 2002.

The company's new European mobile communications headquarters is based in Camberley, England, and opened in 2001. Its work will focus on creating handsets with greater functionality.

Orange, Vodafone and MMO2 have all recently launched consumer GPRS networks. All three, plus One2One and Hutchison AG, are expected to launch high-speed 3G networks in 2002 or 2003. Verizon Wireless recently launched its 3G networks in the United States. These networks will enable operators to offer new types of services and content.

"Toshiba understands the type of handsets needed to make a success of these services, and we are bringing this knowledge to Europe," Seiji Yasunaga, general manager of Toshiba's European mobile communications division, said in a statement.

The 3G market has largely been beset by gloom over recent months, as financial analysts worry that the mobile industry will fail to make back the massive sums of money spent on licenses. Technical delays to trials in Japan and the Isle of Man did little to boost confidence, and there have even been worries that when 3G networks launch there will not be suitable phones to sell to users.

Toshiba's involvement should therefore provide some degree of reassurance to mobile operators and retailers--such as Carphone Warehouse, which recently admitted it was looking to 3G to provide a sales boost. Handset manufacturers may be less pleased to see another competitor, though.

Graeme Wearden reported from London.