The company will also upgrade an earlier version of the BlackBerry to take advantage of the network later in 2006.
The BlackBerry 7130e, as delivered by Sprint, will be able to download information across the mobile broadband network at average speeds of 400 to 700K bps, with speeds as high as 2M bps possible in some areas.
The new device will come with software support for a variety of graphical file types. In addition, the 7130e will support Bluetooth, and it will act as a modem for laptop computers. The 7130e sells for $199.99 after all discounts and promotions.
Mark Guibert, vice president of corporate marketing for RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, said he thinks the combination of features will be very popular.
"The combination of EvDO [Evolution Data Optimized] support providing faster connectivity in such a small form factor opens this up to a broader audience," Guibert said, adding that the product is aimed at traditional cell phone users who are upgrading their phones and who consider better data connectivity to be an important feature.
"This is a form factor that has been successful for us on the IDEN [Integrated Digital Enhanced Network] network (the network used by Nextel) and we hope it will be successful on the CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access] network," explained Christopher Callender, group manager for Smart Devices at Sprint Nextel, headquartered in Reston, Va. "This is aimed at people who spend more time on the phone than doing e-mail or browsing."
Callender said he thinks the new product will draw customers who have not been smart-phone users in the past. "Now phone-first customers can enjoy the same features that exist on the traditional BlackBerry in the form factor of a phone," he said. He added that he thinks this will help Sprint competitively.
"Were doing something better than Verizon, including the capability in the pricing perspective for unlimited data," Callender said. "Users can use the device as a stand-alone, or they can hook it to their computer with the USB cable thats provided in the box," he said. He also noted that the 7130e will support Bluetooth for audio, but not for data, until that capability is enabled by RIM.
Callender said he thinks form factor and usability are the factors that will sell the 7130e. "One of the things that surprised us in focus groups is the delight the users have with the screens. They are bright and vibrant," he said.
Sprint also announced May 31 that the company will begin software upgrades of the BlackBerry 7250 handheld wireless device so that it will work with Sprints Power Vision mobile broadband network.
The online update will be for customers who purchased the 7250 before May 1. Devices sold after that date are already capable of using the Power Vision network.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from Sprint and RIM executives.