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Moscow threatens device ban to boost Russian tech

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Friday threatened to block imports of cellphones and other devices not enabled for its own competitor to widely-used U.S. navigation technology.

Russia has been developing GLONASS, its answer to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), since 1976 but cannot yet produce enough chips for mass manufacture of GLONASS-compatible devices.

Russia, as well as other emerging countries like India, is keen to develop GLONASS to lessen dependence on GPS, which Washington can switch off for civilian subscribers, as it did during military operations in Iraq.

The chief executive of oil-to-telecoms holding company Sistema, which is developing GLONASS, said the firm had held conversations about the technology with manufacturers such as Nokia, Siemens and Motorola.

“They understand that we will close the market for equipment without a GLONASS chip anyway,” said Vladimir Yevtushenkov, according to the transcript of a meeting with Russian Prime Minsister Vladimir Putin posted on the government’s website.

“It is good that our partners understand that we will defend our interests and promote our own product,” Putin said, citing Russia’s experience with global car makers, which opened plants after Russia abolished import duties on car parts.

Yevtushenkov told Putin that foreign firms had accepted the warning: “They will get over it because the Americans at a time when they were moving to GPS also protected their market.”

Under Sistema’s proposal, consumer navigation devices destined for use in Russia will be required to have a GLONASS receiver alongside the GPS one. Such measure may force gadget makers to move part of production to Russia.

Yevtushenkov said that in 2010 Sistema will have samples of GLONASS-enabled gadgets while mass production of GLONASS-enabled devices may begin in 2011.

Sistema’s subsidiary Sitronics is developing chips for GLONASS navigation receivers after licensing a 90 nanometre integrated circuits technology from Europe’s top computer chip maker STMicroelectronics.

Russia is also talking to Germany about Sistema’s interest in taking a stake in German chipmaker Infineon, a deal that has been mooted since late 2009 although it is not clear whether the purchase is linked to GLONASS chips.

(Editing by David Cowell)

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