Sprint Calls on BlackBerry

Targeting new markets for mobile email, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) today said it is releasing a new handheld that will handle both voice and high-speed data.

The latest in BlackBerry 's BlackBerry 7100 series, the 7130e is styled like a cell phone, with a slender profile, a conventional phone keypad rather than a keyboard-style "QWERTY" pad, and a vertical screen. Running over Sprint's EV-DO-based "Power Vision Network," which the company claims covers 220 U.S. cities plus 470 airports, the 7130e offers "broadband-like" speeds of 400-700 Kbit/s, on average.

Like the Palm Inc. Treo 700p, released earlier this month, the 7130e can also function as a high-speed modem when attached via USB cable to a laptop computer, eliminating the need for WiFi hotspots, Ethernet cables and the like. (See New Treo out of the Box.)

The 7130e, says Sprint group manager for smart devices Christopher Callender, is designed to reach a new market segment that finds traditional BlackBerries too cumbersome, too complicated to operate, or too data-centric.

"We are seeing a new type of customer who is a phone-first customer," explains Callender. "Someone who prefers a smaller, candy-bar sized device as opposed to a PDA, and who isn't as data-heavy as the usual BlackBerry user.

"When I get an email message on my traditional BlackBerry, I may reply with a paragraph or two. What we've found is that with the 7100 series, the user is more of a reacter -- they want to be able to browse their inbox in real-time like they can on a traditional BlackBerry, but if a message is critical they're more likely to just use the phone and reply that way."

This more reactive way of using a BlackBerry has spawned its own piece of jargon, for doing a quick scan of incoming emails and acting only on the most urgent messages: "inbox triage."

The 7130e is the second Sprint device to run over the more powerful EV-DO network; the BlackBerry 7250, released last year, is a traditional full-featured BlackBerry with a QWERTY keyboard. (See New BlackBerry in the Wings.)

Aimed at small businesses and "pro-sumer" users, the 7130e will sell initially for $199.99. Sprint is offering a promotional package that includes unlimited data use of the phone, as a standalone device or as a tethered modem, for $39.99 a month.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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