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Russian handset sales back to pre-crisis level: MTS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Total sales of mobile handsets in Russia rose an estimated 16 percent last year and returned to volume levels not seen since an economic crisis struck in 2008, the country's top mobile phone operator MTS said on Tuesday.

Sales amounted to 40.5 million units, within a 40 to 41 million forecast range, and rose by 12 percent in cash terms to 174.8 billion roubles ($5.7 billion), MTS said, citing data from its retail arm.

Market value growth lags volume growth because of falling prices, reflecting growing competition between phone manufacturers and retailers, as well as the emergence of new technologies.

MTS, which had a 16 percent share of the Russian handset sales market at the end of 2011, said the average price of handsets fell last year by 3 percent to 4,315 roubles ($140).

The average price of smartphones -- which accounted for 47.7 percent of total sales in cash terms and 19 percent in volume terms -- was down 12 percent to 10,825 roubles.

This price fall was in large part due to a fight between Samsung Electronics and market leader Nokia for the top spot in the Russian smartphone market.

The South Korean firm has been building up its market position globally and aims to become the world's largest cellphone maker in 2012, ending Nokia's 14-year reign.

Last year, Samsung almost tripled its share of the Russian smartphone market to 28.4 percent in volume terms, pressing Nokia whose share shrank to 43.6 percent from 64 percent.

In money terms, Nokia's share slid to 35.8 percent from 51.8 percent, while Samsung's share rose to 24.9 percent from 11.4 percent, MTS said.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by David Holmes)

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