Nokia's star is fading even in emerging markets

NEW DELHI/HELSINKI (Reuters) - Nokia phones once took pride of place in Manish Khatri's Mumbai store, but now models made bySamsung Electronics get the limelight.

He has nothing against Nokia, he says, but it's better for business to push the more popular models.

That simple calculation is being made in thousands of stores across India and similar emerging markets, where Nokia's rivals used to be relative minnows.

For 14 years the world's biggest seller of mobile phones, it was overtaken by Korea's Samsung in the first quarter of this year, having already watched both Apple and Samsung leapfrog its lead in the lucrative smartphone segment last year.

In the popular narrative of Nokia's eclipse, it is Apple's iPhone that steals the light, but the company is also losing its shine in the basic phone market, which had been a reliable generator of profits and carried the promise of years of strong growth in emerging markets.

No more.

Its basic phone sales fell 16 percent in the first three months of 2012, and have fallen in four of the last five quarters, while competitors like China's ZTE and Huawei have been growing fast.

In India, the world's second-biggest mobile phone market, with more than 900 million subscribers, Nokia's market share has halved in the three years to 2011, when it sold 31 percent of the total 183 million handsets sold, according to Indian researcher CyberMedia.

Analysts say it has failed to keep up with the changing tastes of the growing middle class, and, in a country where the thin-margin network operators don't tend to subsidize phones, is losing storeowners like Khatri, who influence buyers' choices.

"For dealers like us, we face a lot of problems from Nokia for getting even the basic (demonstration phone) dummies to show to the customer," he said. "There is no push from the company."

He said his store, which sells around 500 phones a month, is probably not a priority for Nokia, but Samsung has been sending staff to visit.

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