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Nortel Networks

NATHAN DENETTE/Nathan Denette/

The high-profile auction for Nortel Networks' wireless assets began Friday morning in New York City, as international tech industry titans placed their best offers for the prized division.

The closed-door process began around 9:30 a.m. ET at the offices of the insolvent technology giant's lawyers.

Potential buyers are making their offers for the older CDMA and newer LTE wireless businesses included in the package that also houses valuable patent rights.

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Ahead of the auction start, Swedish telecom giant Ericsson submitted the highest official bid, at US$730-million, while lower offers have been placed by New York-based MatlinPatterson and Nokia Siemens.

Absent from the negotiations is Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion Ltd. The BlackBerry creator informally offered $1.1-billion, but was shut out of the process after it refused to agree to certain terms.

Federal ministers say they encouraged Nortel and RIM to meet and discuss the bid, in hopes that they could reach an agreement, but neither side made any major progress.

On Friday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty vouched for RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie's quest to acquire Nortel assets.

"I think he's a great Canadian and I think he's entirely right to ask for the government to be concerned about the issue," Mr. Flaherty said in Toronto, where he was attending a public event.

"What we want to see is a level playing field, we don't want to see anyone excluded from the process with respect to the sale of the assets of Nortel."

However, Mr. Flaherty said it's up to Industry Minister Tony Clement to make any ultimate decisions.

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Mr. Clement said this week that he wouldn't intervene in Nortel's auction, but that he hoped Nortel would meet with RIM executives to discuss a compromise.

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