Psion's Symbian sell-off hangs on German approval

The ongoing saga of Psion's attempts to divest itself of its share of Symbian continues

Psion's attempt to sell its stake in Symbian to Nokia is waiting on the approval of Germany's competition authorities.

The UK tech firm said on Thursday that it has already received a thumbs-up from the regulators in Finland and Austria. But unless Germany's Bundeskartellamt also approves the sale, the transfer of Psion's 31 percent stake in Symbian to Nokia can't proceed.

The Bundeskartellamt has been considering the issue since Psion's plans were announced in February. It doesn't have to announce its decision until the middle of June, but it is likely to issue a ruling this month.

"If we say no, then companies have the chance to get an extension of the deadline and we look at it once again. But normally the decision will be rolled out in the next few weeks, maybe days," said Anja Scheidgen, a spokesperson for the Bundeskartellamt.

Nokia already owns 32 percent of Symbian, and the proposed sale has led to concern in the mobile industry that Nokia will effectively control the operating system maker if it raises its stake to 63 percent. This potential dominance means that competition authorities such as the Bundeskartellamt must investigate the issue to make sure it isn't against the public interest.

Even if approval is given, Nokia won't necessarily win all 31 percent of the stake, though, as other shareholders would have the right to claim a share.

Ericsson has already indicated that it wants to block Nokia from winning control.

If Nokia had more than 50 percent of Symbian, then this would make it [the Symbian operating system] too much of a Nokia product," said an Ericsson spokesman in March.

Symbian also reported robust sales of handsets based on its operating system. Some 2.4 million Symbian handsets were shipped in the first quarter of 2004, twice as many as for the same period in 2003, at a time when overall mobile phone sales have only been moderate.

Chief executive David Levin said this performance was in line with the company's expectations.

Nokia and Fujitsu both launched new Symbian-based devices in the quarter, and a further seven handsets are in the pipeline from various manufacturers.

ZDNet Germany's Dietmar Mueller contributed to this report.