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November 28, 2005

RIM/Orange: EDGE device debuts in Europe

Research In Motion (RIM) has launched its first EDGE device in Europe, for Orange France. The device, the 8700f, is a GPRS/EDGE handset that represents RIM's most concerted effort yet to produce something that resembles a smart phone rather than a PDA, and the choice of operator indicates Orange's progress in catching up with Cingular Wireless and Rogers Wireless internationally.

By CBR Staff Writer

Research In Motion and Orange France have launched Europe’s first EDGE-enabled BlackBerry device.

Other versions of the same phone, customized for different operators, were recently launched in the US and Canada. The carriers were in those cases Cingular Wireless (whose version is called the 8700c) and Rogers Wireless (the 8700r).

The new product sees RIM making its most concerted effort yet to come up with something that looks and feels like a smart phone rather than a PDA. It still features a full Qwerty keyboard, but the number keys have been grouped to one side for easily phone dialing, and RIM has added send, end and mute buttons for single-thumb operation of the phone part.

The phone can operate on a regular GPRS network but is primarily crafted for EDGE. It can offer application viewing for key Microsoft packages such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel, with the apps themselves all residing on the BlackBerry server. In GPRS such functionality would be sufferable, but in EDGE it gains considerably in speed.

Orange plans to roll out the phone to all its properties in Europe, all of which have deployed EDGE technology. In the UK it will initially be available on Orange’s GPRS network, though there are strong rumors of an EDGE rollout in that country too.

RIM also plans to launch the phone in European countries without Orange networks, but is keeping mum as to which operators it will be working with. It will clearly be easier to market the phone to EDGE operators though, as it will show considerable advantage to their business customers vis-a-vis GPRS users.

It is interesting that Orange has followed Cingular and Rogers as a launch pad for the 8700. While the handset is clearly attractive to Orange France, given that its EDGE network currently covers 90% of the country’s population, there is also the fact that France Telecom’s mobile division is getting closer to Cingular and Rogers internationally. Indeed, the 8700 is a quad-band phone, and so can be used on both European and US EDGE networks, enabling carriers to target international multinational corporate (MNC) business.

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