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Sprint nixes 4G BlackBerry PlayBook tablet

Sprint said Friday that it is canceling plans to bring out a 4G version of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. More bad news for a company struggling with dismal earnings and facing headwinds in the increasingly crowded tablet market.

Sprint Nextel said today that it has scrapped plans for a 4G version of RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, though the carrier will continue to offer a Wi-Fi version of the 7-inch tablet.

"We apologize for any inconvenience, but the BlackBerry 4G PlayBook Tablet that was announced in January for summer availability will no longer be coming to the Sprint network," the company said in a statement today.

"This was a mutual decision between Sprint and RIM," Sprint said.

Sprint canceled plans for the BlackBerry PlayBook 4G but continues to sell the Wi-Fi model
Sprint canceled plans for the BlackBerry PlayBook 4G but continues to sell the Wi-Fi model. Sprint

RIM, for its part, said it is focusing on LTE technology for 4G. Sprint's 4G technology is based on WiMax. "RIM has decided to prioritize and focus its 4G development resources on LTE...Testing of BlackBerry 4G PlayBook models is already underway and we plan to enter labs for network certifications in the US and other international markets this fall," RIM said in a statement.

Sprint does offer a 4G tablet, the HTC Evo View 4G. And that will remain its only 4G tablet offering for now.

A Sprint representative was quick to add that customers can get 4G on a PlayBook by pairing it with the Overdrive Pro from Sierra Wireless, the Novatel 3G/4G MiFi, or any Sprint 4G device offering mobile hot spot capabilities. "It offers more flexibility" because consumers are not limited to one device, said Michelle Leff Mermelstein, a spokeswoman for Sprint.

Sprint's stable of Wi-Fi tablets includes the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Motorola Xoom, and the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook.

The PlayBook is competing in a market crowded with tablets from Motorola, Samsung, Toshiba, Acer, Asus, and others--all based on Google's Android operating system. Apple's enormously successful iPad dominates the tablet space and has made it very difficult for rivals to gain a toehold in the market.

During its most recent earnings announcement, RIM said it had shipped 500,000 PlayBooks. At that time, the mobile device maker also announced it had missed revenue targets by hundreds of millions of dollars and that it would start layoffs during the second quarter.

RIM's Co-CEO Jim Balsillie said at that time that the "PlayBook launch did not go as smoothly as planned."

Updated at 5:35 p.m. PDT: adds comments from RIM.