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New BlackBerry joins RIM pickings

Armed with a grant from the Federal Communications Commission and a new lower-priced device, Research In Motion is looking to target the masses.

Armed with a grant from the Federal Communications Commission and a new lower-priced BlackBerry device, Research In Motion is looking to target the large consumer market.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company received approval Jan. 23 from the FCC for a device called the BlackBerry 6225, according to an FCC application filing. The device is a combination cell phone, organizer and two-way messaging device that operates in the 900MHz and 1900MHz radio frequencies for Global System for Mobile Communications and General Packet Radio Service cellular networks in the United States, according to the filing. The device comes with a built-in keyboard.

With gadgets in the $400 to $500 range, one of the chief obstacles for mainstream acceptance of RIM's BlackBerry devices has been price. However, the new BlackBerry 6225 is expected to cost significantly less, allowing it to reach a much larger audience, according to estimates from equity research firm BMO Nesbitt Burns Research.

"We believe that the complete architecture redesign will result in a much lower price point, possibly $300 to $350 before carrier subsidies," analyst Ray Sharma wrote in a research note early Tuesday morning. "We believe that the 6200 series product is a critical transition point for RIM, to round out its product portfolio with an offering targeted at the consumer market."

A remaining obstacle is the cost of the messaging service.

"RIM typically has multiple products in varying stages of development at any given time. FCC approval is obviously a necessary step in the process, but it does not indicate commercial launch or availability," an RIM representative wrote in an e-mail to CNET "Also, this type of product is typically brought to market by a network carrier or other business partner, which involves a number of incremental processes and largely independent timelines. It is too early for RIM to comment on this particular device."

RIM's biggest customers have been mobile professionals, such as business executives, salespeople and lawyers who make up a smaller segment of the overall handheld market than mainstream consumers. RIM had 463,000 BlackBerry subscribers as of Nov. 30, 2002, according to company figures, and expects to add another 60,000 to 70,000 subscribers in the current quarter.

The company has been expanding its market reach through partnerships with the likes of Nextel Partners. At the same time, RIM is losing some of its core audience to companies such as start-up Good Technology.

RIM announced Monday a new version of its server software that will eventually allow subscribers to wirelessly synchronize the information on BlackBerry devices with data on a corporate computer network.