Finnish communications giant Nokia says Hong Kong remains its strongest Asian market outside the mainland for next-generation wireless hand-held devices and network systems, despite sluggish global sales this year. 'Hong Kong has always enabled Nokia to showcase its latest and best offerings, especially mobile phones,' says Timo Toikkanen, Nokia's general manager for Hong Kong and Macau. Last month, Nokia unveiled a new range of mobile phone products designed to take advantage of new, high-speed wireless data transmission capabilities recently set up by the SAR's six mobile network operators. Out of a total population of six million-plus, Hong Kong is estimated to have 5.4 million mobile phone subscribers. 'Nokia has been the clear market leader here for a number of years because we've focused on what local mobile phone users want in terms of price, looks and functionality,' Mr Toikkanen says. The company's new 5210, 6510 and Chinese character-enabled 9210 models (available in the first quarter next year), as well as the 7650 'imaging phone' (available around the middle of next year) are expected to support local operators' recent efforts to promote short messaging service (SMS) operations. As SMS gained belated popularity here, Nokia also saw Hong Kong becoming a fertile market for multimedia messaging system (MMS) services which half of the new models it will launch next year will support. Nokia has long pioneered the messaging market and has introduced a vast variety of industry-first messaging systems and applications, such as ring tones, picture messages and wireless imaging. Research firm Gartner estimates sales of GPRS (general packet radio service) handsets, which allow for high-speed, always-on data connection over GSM (global system for mobile-standard) wireless networks, will reach 30,000 units this year. Mr Toikkanen expects Nokia's recent GPRS model, the 8310, to be one of the big sellers in the SAR until next year as SMS catches on here. Nokia estimates 420 million to 440 million mobile handsets will be sold globally next year, representing annual market volume growth of 10 to 15 per cent. Among many product and categories Nokia is unleashing next year, it expects to launch dual-mode GSM/WCDMA (wideband code division multiple access) third-generation phones during the second half of next year. The company says 3G phones should account for roughly 10 per cent of all Nokia mobile phones unit sales in 2003. Nokia has also had significant success this year in penetrating the market for advanced mobile communications network equipment in Hong Kong. In September, the company was tapped by CSL to supply it with 3G network infrastructure equipment, as well as provide project management service for the network implementation. Project management services for CSL will include design, installation, commissioning and integration, as well as maintenance services from Nokia. In March, Nokia opened its first 3G applications centre here to support local operators in fostering early and rapid development of end-to-end mobile multimedia applications. Nokia sees such development as crucial for a wireless future.