LAS VEGAS – Nokia Corp. said Monday it is cooperating with a leading provider of Internet-based phone services to enable cell phone users to make wireless calls without using precious minutes.
The world's largest mobile phone maker also announced new models at the International Consumer Electronics Show, which starts Monday in Las Vegas, Nev., and claimed a lead in the market for smart phones with 40 million units sold last year.
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Nokia said its new N800 Internet Tablet will permit wireless phone connections through eBay Inc.'s Skype service. The model is available immediately in the United States and selected European countries, and Nokia said the Skype features will be available for download by June.
"Working with the leading mobile handset manufacturer puts us in a unique position to get Skype to the mobile masses," said Eric Lagier, head of Skype's business development in hardware and mobile operations.
Skype is among several Internet-based phone services that work by splitting voice conversations into data packets just like e-mail and Web pages and sending them over the Internet, in this case using a wireless Wi-Fi connection. The packets are reassembled at the destination.
Although Wi-Fi telephones and walkie-talkie-like communicators long have been available for hospitals and offices, manufacturers and mobile carriers are just now starting to offer devices that offer both standard cellular calls and Internet calls.
Voice minutes over Wi-Fi networks are far cheaper than minutes on cellular networks because they use free radio spectrum and the Internet and do not require large cell towers. Skype has a variety of calling plans, including a $30 annual subscription to make unlimited calls to any regular or mobile phone number within the United States and Canada.
Nokia, meanwhile, unveiled the N76, a light, clamshell model that includes a 2-megapixel camera and 2 gigabytes of expandable memory. But, at a half-inch thick, it is only slightly thinner than Motorola Inc.'s popular Razr model and is nearly twice as thick as Samsung Electronics Co.'s X820, which the South Korean company claims to be the thinnest on the market.
Analysts had seen Nokia as losing ground on slim models to the Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola and to Samsung, which introduced the handsets more than a year earlier.
In making the announcement, Nokia avoided the word "slim," describing the new model only as "a trimmer fold model," and emphasized its large display and high memory capacity.
Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said Nokia did not want to sacrifice its N-series multimedia capabilities in designing the N76.
Nokia also said it is now also the top maker of smart phones, known as "converged devices" that enable fast Internet access and downloads — having sold more than 44 percent of the 90 million on the global market. The number of smart phones is expected to hit 250 million by 2008, Kallasvuo said.
"Single purpose devices are becoming less attractive," he said. "And the converged devices taking their place are increasingly powerful and easy to use."
Kallasvuo said that more than 850 million people worldwide now use Nokia handsets. "No other consumer electronics company in the world has ever had such a customer base," he said.
Nokia also launched the N93i, a combined multimedia phone and digital camcorder that it says allows users to shoot DVD-quality videos.
Last year, Nokia said the Internet was boosting mobile technology faster than earlier expected and predicted that 3 billion mobile subscriptions will be reached in 2007, instead of 2008 as it had earlier said. It also predicted that the 4 billion mark would be reached in 2010.
In Helsinki, Nokia shares were nearly unchanged at euro15.25 ($19.95) in mid-afternoon trading.
Based in Espoo near the Finnish capital, Nokia has operations in 130 countries with 65,000 employees.