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Global sales of mobile phones fell for the first time last year, according to boffins at Gartner.

Even though punters bought a whopping 399.6 million phones last year this was still down 3.2 per cent compared to the year before.

Part of the reason for the dip is that many markets in Europe have reached saturation point, explains Gartner's Mobile Communications Worldwide research group.

Other reasons for the modest decline include the removal of subsidies for handsets and the development of second-hand markets, especially in the developing world.

Last year's performance follows a huge growth in sales of 60 per cent over the last four years.

What's more, Gartner is also pessimistic about the short-term for global sales.

Part of this is down to continued economic uncertainty and the reluctance of people to blow cash on upgrading their phones.

Gartner also said that sales of General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) phones in Western Europe failed to live up to expectations last year.

Said senior analyst Ben Wood: "GPRS network operators struggled to persuade new or existing end users to upgrade to GPRS terminals."

Nokia remains the biggest seller of handsets with more than a third of market share followed by Motorola (15 per cent), Siemens (7.4 per cent) Samsung (7.1 per cent) and Ericsson 6.7 per cent. ®

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