Company at centre of 3G plans further expansion


With the world's telecoms companies laying off thousands of people, their share prices dipping to penny status, and overcapacity in mobile phone production approaching mountain range proportions, a company that is at the very core of the sector is doing rather well.

Symbian, which has a significant presence in Cambridge, is the company set up by Psion three years ago with most of the major mobile companies joining in as partners.

The idea was not to keep re-inventing the wheel, but to work together on developing the next generation of mobile phone, saving costs and time.

Symbian came to Cambridge, initially on Cambridge Science Park, two years ago when it took over Origin. It has now moved to new premises in Milton, and business is booming.

'There are nine sites around the world, with the main one in London, but Cambridge is growing disproportionately fast,' says Simon Garth, who runs things here.

The company now has 650 people, 65 of them in Cambridge, and the second 'Boot Camp' is about to start (remember Mr Garth and his boot camps -- intensive ways to get newly recruited engineers up to speed pdq. It did not sound very attractive at the time, but it was and is, and it works.)

The first tangible result of Symbian's efforts hit the shops this summer, the Nokia 9210, what Mr Garth describes as the world's first smart phone. It looks like a mobile phone, well, a bit bigger than the tiny things you can get now, but it opens out to reveal a full keypad and screen.

It can play videos, games, send and receive email, browse the web. There are 110 different applications to go with it, including other companies' games, maps, you name it.

'At the moment you have to buy a new phone to get a new service, now you can add new services to your old phone,' Mr Garth says, which doesn't sound like very good news for the mountain.

'Many of our licensees have had large numbers of redundancies, and we are not growing at quite the same manic rate, more like 15 to 20 per cent a year, which is more comfortable than the 100 per cent we were doing.'

Even so, Symbian is about to move its entire Bluetooth activity to Cambridge and will be working closely with Cambridge Silicon Radio.

Symbian also has close ties with Cambridge 3G, the unique organisation set up a few months ago to encourage greater co-operation between local companies.

Members meet regularly to brainstorm how they can 'dovetail' into each others products in a bid to provide an end-to-end service from Cambridge to the world.

'Vodafone is now involved, too. Everybody is working with everybody else. The key thing is to make the transition from voice to 'all singing, all dancing' phones.

'At some point, when the market is created, everyone will again be competing like mad.'

Except Symbian, which is not in the competing game, it's setting the standard. 'From our point of view we are pretty confident about the future. The only way out of the present situation is for the industry to invest its way out.'