RIM announced on Tuesday that it has struck a deal with VoiceStream, which has about 6 million subscribers in more than 30 states.
Under the agreement, VoiceStream will become a reseller in the United States of next-generation BlackBerry devices, which will include software to run on VoiceStream's GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) network. RIM devices currently run on pager networks.
The announcement comes as Ontario, Canada-based RIM faces increasing competition from handheld giant Palm and from start-ups such as Danger Research and Good Technology. These rivals are looking to bring similar always-on e-mail devices to the corporate market that RIM dominates.
By turning to GSM/GPRS, RIM is setting the stage for a new feature in its devices--voice.
"The key for RIM is to offer voice capabilities in addition to instant e-mail," Needham analyst Andrew Scott said. "That could help them win more accounts with large companies."
As of Sept. 1, RIM had 246,000 subscribers at more than 12,000 companies.
BlackBerry devices in England already support voice calls via a software upgrade, a RIM representative said.
For the RIM devices to handle both voice and data capabilities, they need the appropriate data and voice wireless networks. Bellevue, Wash.-based VoiceStream has launched GPRS networks in several major U.S. cities. And in late September, RIM received approval from the Federal Communications Commission for a BlackBerry device running on GSM/GPRS.
"This deal only makes sense for VoiceStream if the devices can operate on its network," IDC analyst Alex Slawsby said.