Blackberry from China Telecom

Tuesday, December 22, 2009, 7:40 by Tech Correspondent

China Telecom will sell BlackBerry smartphones in China. China Telecom will be the second Chinese telecom operator to retail BlackBerrys in China. As of now, there is only a single mobile operator – China Mobile – who sells BlackBerry handhelds in China. China Telecom is the largest fixed-line telecom operator in China. The company bought out the CDMA operations of China Unicom in 2008.

The alliance with China Telecom is expected to help Research In Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of BlackBerrys, to deepen in presence in China. China Telecom being a CDMA operator, Chinese customers can expect the CDMA models and World Phone models of BlackBerrys in China. In the US, RIM mostly sells its phones through an exclusive tieup with Verizon Wireless. Unlocked BlackBerry phones and GSM BlackBerrys are also available in the US.

China Telecom did not say when it will launch BlackBerrys in China, or what the prices will be. Customers can expect cheaper handsets only if China Telecom subsidisies the price of the handset and bundles it with a data plan for a year or two. However, the bundling plan, which is successful in Europe and North America, has not worked well in many Asian countries. in the US, AT&T sells the iPhone for $199 with a two year contract, while the same iPhone costs over $900 in China without a contract. It is unlikely that China Telecom will sell BlackBerrys with a contract in China. So, retail prices in China may be higher for BlackBerrys.

The China Telecom deal will not be an exclusive one, since RIM already sells BlackBerrys in China in another deal with China Mobile. China Mobile mostly sells BlackBerrys to enterprises, while China Telecom will focus on the retail buyer.

It would be interesting to watch how WiFi functions on the BlackBerry will work in China. China insists on all WiFi-enabled handsets conforming to an indigenously-designed protocol, which handset makers suspect is a backdoor snooping mechanism. Consequently, when Apple brought iPhones to China, they were sold without WiFi functionality. Unless RIM is willing to compromise the design of the device, BlackBerrys in China may also come without WiFi.