Vodafone to offer Blackberry wireless e-mail device

Mobile phone operator Vodafone Ltd. will start selling the BlackBerry wireless e-mail device to corporate customers in the U.K. in June, offering roaming service throughout most of Europe, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) said Monday.

The deal with Vodafone, of Newbury, England, marks RIM's latest push onto the European market and gives it a foot in the door at Vodafone Group PLC, Vodafone's parent company and one of Europe's largest mobile operators.

The BlackBerry device, which looks like a pager with a large and screen and keyboard, landed in Europe late last year when mm02 PLC of London started selling it through its BT Cellnet Ltd. subsidiary. Mm02's businesses in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands started offering the BlackBerry early this year, RIM spokeswoman Tilly Quanjer said.

Germany's T-Mobile International AG and Italy's Telecom Italia Mobile SpA will start selling the BlackBerry in their respective countries in a few months, Quanjer said. A deal with a French operator is in the works, she said.

"We are in discussion with a number of carriers throughout Europe, several of them who have a pan-European presence. We expect introduction in France towards end of the year," Quanjer said, declining to name any of the operators RIM, in Waterloo, Ontario, is in talks with.

So far about 250 businesses have signed on for the BlackBerry service offered through mm02. In the U.S., where BlackBerry was launched three years ago, 14,400 companies were using BlackBerry as of March 2, Quanjer said.

Operating on GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) mobile networks, BlackBerry offers an always-on connection to corporate e-mail inboxes. BT Cellnet offers the Enterprise Edition server software for £2,500 (US$3615), which includes the first 20 user licenses. The 5820 handheld is sold separately and costs £399. Airtime is a flat rate of between £29 and £39 per user per month, according to RIM.

Pricing information for Vodafone's BlackBerry offering will be released closer to the June launch date, RIM said.

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