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updated 3/16/2004 8:17:04 PM ET 2004-03-17T01:17:04

Nokia sought to prevent a growing row over push-to-talk mobile phone technology with a promise that its networks and software would be compatible with other manufacturers' offerings.

The reassurances came in response to complaints from rivals that the Finnish company was shunning collective standards for "walkie-talkie" mobile phones in order to get its own products on the market faster.

Push-to-talk technology, which allows mobile users to talk to one or more people in short bursts by pushing a button on the handset, has become one of the latest focus areas in the mobile phone industry.

Nextel, the U.S. operator, has attracted a large number of new users with the service, which is popular among groups of workers, such as builders, and a number of other operators in the United States and Europe are planning similar products.

Last August, Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Siemens all pledged to create a unified standard for the technology through the Open Mobile Alliance, but Ericsson says Nokia is pushing forward its own platform, which will not necessarily work with the network software of the others.

"Nokia is pushing its own completely proprietary solution that hasn't yet been proven to be interoperable, in order to gain lead time in the market," said Johan Bergendahl, vice-president of marketing at Ericsson.

"By pursuing its own in-house standard Nokia can get handsets out quicker than its competitors. It is not playing by the rules."

Ericsson, Motorola and Siemens announced plans to begin joint interoperability tests of their push-to-talk technology, but said Nokia had declined to join them.

Nokia insists it remains committed to the OMA standard, which is due to be finalized this month. In the interim, however, it is offering its own "pre-standard" technology to satisfy "market demand for a rapid launch".

These phones are due to be on the market in the second quarter.

The "pre-standard" platform, Nokia said, would later this year work with the alternative "pre-standard" technology developed by Ericsson, Siemens and Motorola, and could easily be altered to comply with the final OMA push-to-talk standard, once it is agreed. However, Ericsson said that having divergent technologies - even for a short time - was "confusing" and said it would require considerable effort later to ensure everything worked together.

Analysts said Nokia had also diverged from its peers in the development of mobile base stations, and two years ago was pushing its own Enhanced Messaging Services.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

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