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More than 510 million mobile phone handsets were shipped last year in what is being described by analysts as a "phenomenal year" for the industry.

Early estimates from Gartner, based on industry figures, suggest that sales of handsets exceeded expectations around the world.

Mature markets, including the US, Europe and Japan, saw a surge in replacement sales with colour screens and camera phones proving popular.

In emerging markets, such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, sales continued to beat expectations due to the availability of very low cost handsets and aggressive sales tactics by operators.

Said Gartner analyst, Ben Wood: "2003 was a phenomenal year for the mobile phone industry, with an average growth rate of nearly 20 percent.

"As we enter 2004, the emerging markets will play an increasingly important role and we expect manufacturers to continue developing low cost products specifically for these markets," he said.

Gartner also revealed that the buoyant sale of handsets looks set to continue with early indicators from Q1 suggesting that the "positive trend in the mobile handset market is continuing".

As a result, Gartner is "provisionally raising" its forecast for mobile phone sales to 560 million in 2004. ®

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