RIM Ramps Up Connectivity with Products, Partnerships

As it readies several new BlackBerrys and crafts a carrier agreement with Sprint, the company says it expects to double its number of subscribers to 2 million by year's end.

Fresh off a quarter of stellar sales, Research In Motion Ltd. is working to increase its customers connectivity options with new products and network partnerships.

As part of its plan, RIM is readying several new BlackBerrys and crafting a carrier agreement with Sprint Corp. Those moves, plus others, will give IT managers running RIMs BlackBerry Enterprise Server expanded device and network support and give non-BES customers new reasons for considering the products.

While RIM plans to release at least two new BlackBerrys, the majority of new devices supporting BES this year will come from third parties, according to Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM, in Waterloo, Ontario.

RIM plans in the fall to start beta tests of a BlackBerry device that runs over a wireless LAN, Balsillie said. The company also will add Wi-Fi support to BES.

Balsillie also confirmed rumors of a BlackBerry smart phone with a smaller form factor than current BlackBerrys. Although he declined to provide ship dates, he clarified design plans, noting that while the device will work as a phone, the main focus will be data access.

"Were always optimizing packaging and changing that, but its still a nice-sized display, and its not like a Nokia [Corp.] or Siemens [AG] or Motorola [Inc. device]," Balsillie said.

For now, phones that support BES will come largely from third parties that license client-side BES software through the BlackBerry Connect program. By years end, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung Electronics Co. will all have handsets that can connect to BES, Balsillie said.

Some partners plan phones that support Wi-Fi and cellular connections to BES, said Balsillie, although he declined to say which ones or when they are due.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about the BlackBerry branching out with a Sprint partnership and a new server release.

"RIM is clearly parlaying their success in e-mail to expand into the mobile phone market, and the two together are a killer device. Our people love them," said BES user Nick Gass, IT manager at Color Kinetics Inc., in Boston. "The more ways users can access information, the better."

In terms of carrier support, Sprint plans to sell the BES service and software, as well as a version of PalmOne Inc.s Treo that can connect to BES. Sprint officials declined to say when service will be available, but Balsillie said that it is "imminent."

Version 4.0 of BES, which lets IT managers provision the BES software to devices remotely, is due by the fall, Balsillie said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifTo read about expanded BlackBerry server support, click here.

Last week, company officials said RIM expects to double its number of subscribers to 2 million by years end. That word followed RIMs announcement of a 289 percent jump in second-quarter sales over the same quarter last year, making RIM largely responsible for the industrywide 12 percent increase in PDA sales year over year, according to analysts.

But RIMs good fortune hasnt dissuaded competitors such as Good Technology Inc. Good has provided cradleless provisioning since the company launched its GoodLink server software in 2002. Good plans a version of the GoodLink server that supports Wi-Fi, said officials in Sunnyvale, Calif.

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