Symbian backers downplay investment row

The companies funding mobile phone operating system developer Symbian are racing to defuse a potential row over the withdrawal of Psion as an investor in the business.Psion announced last month that it was selling its 31.

The companies funding mobile phone operating system developer Symbian are racing to defuse a potential row over the withdrawal of Psion as an investor in the business.

Psion announced last month that it was selling its 31.1 percent stake in Symbian to Nokia for an unspecified sum, which would give Nokia a 63 percent stake in the company. Psion is the second major investor to withdraw in a year, following Motorola. Other shareholders include Ericsson (17.5 percent), Panasonic (7.9 percent), Samsung (5 percent), Siemens (4.8 percent) and Sony Ericsson (1.5 percent).

The change in ownership has led to speculation that Symbian might shift away from its roots as an open platform available to all phone developers and become more Nokia-centric, as no other shareholder would be able to override its decisions. Adding fuel to the fire, Symbian chief executive David Levin has said that the deal is not yet finalised.

Speaking at the 3GSM Congress in Cannes, Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila said that Psion had sold off its share because it had not wanted to continue investing large sums in Symbian.

"It became clear that Symbian needs two years or so more investment to really make the platform solid for the future," he said.

Despite that change, Ollila insisted that there would be no change in Symbian's strategy.

"Openness obviously will be underlined by everything Symbian does, whatever the shareholding base," he said.

The issue of Symbian's ownership has been a popular topic for discussion at the Congress, overshadowing the release this week of version 8.0 of the Symbian OS. The topic was repeatedly raised during keynote speeches when attendees were given the opportunity to SMS questions to executives.

In one such session, Ericsson chief executive officer Carl-Henric Svanberg denied that the change in shareholding would influence handset makers to move away from Symbian to rival platforms such as Microsoft's Smartphone.

"I think everyone that's a shareholder in Symbian wants it to be free and open," he said.

However, Ericsson is not throwing all its eggs in the Symbian basket either. The base software developed by its mobile platforms division is designed to work on either Symbian or Microsoft platforms, using a plug-in architecture. "We are operating systems agnostic," said divisional president Sandeep Chennakeshu.

Angus Kidman travelled to Cannes as a guest of Ericsson.

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