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RIM sashays into Europe

The maker of Blackberry two-way pagers takes its first concrete step into European markets, announcing a supply agreement with a British telecom.

    Research In Motion, which makes Blackberry two-way pagers, took its first concrete step into European markets Monday.

    RIM announced an agreement with BT Cellnet, a telecommunications company in England. Under the deal, RIM will supply BT Cellnet with 175,000 Blackberry devices and accompanying software.

    Though the order is relatively small, analysts say the move is significant because it shows RIM and BT Cellnet are moving forward on a partnership they announced last summer.

    In June, BT Cellnet said it was working to upgrade its GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks to GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), and RIM said it was working to develop devices to run on this network. GPRS allows for faster connections to the Internet than GSM.

    Monday's announcement is "very significant," said Paul Coster, a wireless analyst with J.P. Morgan H&Q. "It means that BT is now close to switching to GPRS...and it means that RIM is about to launch products in Europe, with a very credible partner."

    Over the past few years, Canada-based RIM has had considerable success in North American business markets with the sale of its always-on Blackberry devices, which let people check their e-mail without dialing in.

    Analysts say by moving overseas now, RIM stands to gain a similar leadership position in Europe.

    "As an early entrant into that space, it could take off like a rocket because no one else is really doing it," Coster said. "You can't get two-way messaging from a rich device right now in Europe."

    Other handheld makers have also sought to expand their market opportunity overseas. Palm, which already sells its mobile devices internationally, recently announced plans to release wireless handhelds in Japan, in conjunction with NTT DoCoMo.