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New BlackBerry in the Wings

BlackBerry may show off a new T-Mobile US Inc. BlackBerry 8700 device at the CTIA Wireless 2006 show in Vegas this week, part of a number of launches expected this year from the vendor, according to analysts at Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.

In a research note issued this morning, Merrill Lynch points to several expected product launches as "positive catalysts that can jumpstart RIM's growth" in the second half of the year. Ahead of that, the Canadian vendor is due to report its latest quarterly results this Thursday.

A T-Mobile launch of the 8700 phone would likely represent a stopgap measure for RIM while it works on 3G-capable devices. The 8700s support GSM, GPRS, and EDGE cellular connections, but not WiFi or 3G UMTS connectivity, options that are both slowly being added to many other smartphones on the market.

As well as the possible CTIA launch, however, the analysts expect to see a 3G UMTS BlackBerry for Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and CDMA versions of 8700 for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless . (See New 3G Blackberry Spotted .)

The evolution of the BlackBerry server with the integration of enterprise voice capabilities from RIM's acquisition of Ascendant will also, no doubt, pique enterprise users' interest at the show.

Inevitably, however, most attention will be focused on the devices, particularly because we haven't seen many of the "RIM Killer" devices that were talked up at the CTIA show last fall and at CES this past January. (See RIM's Backend Kicker.)

As the analysts note, neither the Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) Q smartphone nor the Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) E61 have yet seen the light of day, despite "market expectations" of a first-quarter launch. But no one's expecting those vendors to do any curtain-raising in Vegas, at least where those devices are concerned.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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