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May 17, 2010 11:28 pm

China Telecom to launch BlackBerry sales

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China Telecom plans to launch sales of the BlackBerry later this month, the country’s smallest mobile operator and Research In Motion, the maker of the device, said on Monday.

The deal should help RIM advance in the world’s largest mobile services market by subscribers, as a growing array of rival high-end mobile devices eats away at the Canadian company’s share of the global smartphone market.

In China, the BlackBerry is currently only available through China Mobile, the market leader, Digital China, an IT distributor, and grey market imports.

Following the approach of China Mobile, China Telecom will also start by offering the BlackBerry to corporate customers only.

China Mobile said last year that it was preparing to distribute the device to small and medium enterprises as well as individuals, but has yet to follow up on that promise.

The company’s attempt to sell a BlackBerry device supporting TD-SCDMA, the homegrown but immature standard it uses for its third-generation services, is believed to be one reason for the delay.

China’s three state-owned mobile operators have been locked in an increasingly competitive battle for subscribers since they received licences for 3G services in January 2009.

China Unicom, the number two operator, is so far the only one legally distributing Apple’s iPhone. China Mobile has created the OPhone , an operating platform based on Google’s Android operating system, for which several handset makers have started offering custom-made devices.

China Telecom’s 3G services use 3-CDMA, the standard in the US.

The company, formerly a fixed-line carrier only, started offering mobile services little more than a year ago under a government-mandated industry restructuring. It had 65.45m mobile subscribers at the end of March.

China Mobile, the former monopolist, has 538m subscribers, and China Unicom has 147m.

A breakthrough in China could be crucial for RIM this year as it has been losing market share to smartphones powered by Android and to a resurgent Motorola in other parts of the world.

RIM’s global market share peaked at 20.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2009, according to Gartner, the IT research firm.

But in Asia, the largest regional smartphone market, RIM has only a 3 per cent market share. “The Asian market is ... likely to be a focus point in 2010,” said CK Cheng, an analyst at CLSA, in a recent note.

China Telecom did not disclose whether and how it will subsidise BlackBerry devices. China Mobile currently offers three different packages starting from Rmb398 a month, and subscribers can get a BlackBerry for free if they sign up for a flat fee of Rmb598 a month.

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