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RIM and Nextel call up distribution deal

Research In Motion and Nextel Partners have reached an agreement to sell BlackBerry devices to midsized markets.

Research In Motion is looking to grow its share of the midsized market through a partnership with wireless carrier Nextel Partners.

The two companies announced Monday that they will sell RIM's BlackBerry 6510 device into midsized markets, such as Louisville, Ky., Buffalo, N.Y., Little Rock, Ark., and Honolulu, where Nextel Partners' cellular service is available. The Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM announced a similar deal with Nextel Communications in November of last year and began selling into large markets, such as New York City and Boston, in December.

The deal will allow RIM to sell its device and service to Nextel Partners' estimated 800,000 subscribers in 31 states. Nextel Communications has about 10 million subscribers for its service, including those from Nextel Partners. Prior to Monday's announcement, Nextel Partner subscribers were not able to receive BlackBerry service, but now they can roam between midsized and large markets and get the service. Now the experience should be seamless, according to representatives from Nextel Partners.

Nextel Communications and Nextel Partners are separate companies, with Nextel Communications owning a 32 percent stake in Nextel Partners. The two share access to a nationwide wireless network, but target different markets.

The $499 BlackBerry 6510 is now available through Nextel Partners and lets customers send and receive e-mail, link to an e-mail account on a desktop PC, make cell phone calls, and act as a "walkie-talkie" with other Nextel subscribers. To take advantage of the e-mail features, customers need to subscribe to RIM's BlackBerry E-Mail Service Plan, which costs $49.99 per month in addition to a voice plan. Voice plans are an additional and optional fee.

The BlackBerry 6510 measures 4.4 inches by 2.9 inches by 0.94 inches and weighs about 5.8 ounces. The device includes a keyboard, a built-in wireless modem, a rechargeable lithium battery, and a microphone and headset jack.

Facing increasing competition from the likes of Good Technology and Microsoft--with its Smartphone software--and as its tries to increase growth amid a slowdown in corporate spending, RIM has been looking to broaden the number and types of devices that can use its software and services.

Late last year, RIM announced it is working with cell phone maker Nokia on a device that will launch in the United States by the end of 2003.