Symbian seeks to improve economic case

Symbian is to re-structure its licensing charges in an attempt to improve the economic case for using the operating system in mid-range handsets. The company is unusually transparent about its licensing regime in an industry where such fees are often a closely guarded secret and vary from customer to customer.

Symbian has been upfront about its licensing policies from the outset, starting with a split structure of USD 10 and USD 5 depending on which version of the OS was used, and later adopting a ‘starter rate’ of USD 7.50 per handset for the first 2 million units shipped by a manufacturer and a flat fee of USD 5 thereafter.

Under the new structure, Symbian claims a software license will cost as little as USD 2.50 per handset. It will abandon the higher initial cost, providing standard pricing from the outset in a bid to encourage manufacturers to switch to the Symbian platform. Symbian’s customers can choose to pay either a percentage of the handset trade price, presumably with a minimum charge of USD 2.50, or a flexible pricing scale which reduces the cost of licenses as the number of shipments increases.

Handset manufacturers will be able to switch pricing schemes on an annual basis and the new tariff is available on Symbian OS 9 licenses from July 2006.

Symbian coincided the announcement with news that Freescale, the semiconductor business spun-out of Motorola and Nokia will offer a 3G reference platform based on Freescale’s chipset and Nokia’s Series 60 interface.

The reference design is based around the single core architecture of Freescale’s MXC300-30 platform. It will be pre-integrated and tested by Elektrobit, the technical consultancy, enabling handset manufacturers to launch new products at lower cost and with a shorter time-to-market.

Significantly, Vodafone issued a statement in support of the initiative. Jens Schulte-Bockum, Vodafone Group Director of Terminals, said: “We are encouraged by the initiative taken by Freescale, Nokia and Symbian to develop a reference design based upon the MXC300-30 platform, which we hope will enable lower cost 3G S60 devices based on Symbian OS in 2007.”

Operators, particularly Vodafone, have traditionally avoided issuing statements of support for particular OS platforms. However, the collaborative efforts around the new Symbian pricing and its attempts to reduce the overall build cost of 3G handsets are clearly of benefit to the operator community.

Another major beneficiary will be Nokia, Symbian’s major shareholder, which is now shipping tens of millions of Symbian handsets each year. The new licensing structure will significantly reduce the cost of software in its overall bill of materials (BOM).

The Finnish manufacturer will also be hoping the lower cost and faster development times for Symbian OS devices running its Series 60 platform will help to re-ignite interest in licensing its interface and applications layer. Samsung, Siemens and Panasonic have all announced Series 60 handsets, but they failed to ship in significant volumes and the manufacturers have since been quiet on plans for future Series 60 products.

Low-cost, easily customisable device platforms are a key enabler of user experience enhancements. By reducing the complexity of tailoring handset designs for particular market segments, Symbian is playing an active role in this area. The open platforms approach also makes it easier for third party developers to deliver the content and services which form a vital part of a segmented product offering.

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