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Orange debuts new Blackberry flavour

French to get 8700f first

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Orange today said it will ship Research In Motion's latest Blackberry, the 8700, in the UK early next year. However, British buyers may not be immediately able to use one of the device's key features: the EDGE data-transfer speed enhancement for GPRS networks.

Other carriers, expected to offer the device in the same timeframe, may provide EDGE support.

RIM unveiled the 8700 last month. Orange's suitably-hued variant, the 8700f, launched in France today, marks the device's debut in Europe. Based on an Intel processor, for the first time, the 8700 is also the first Blackberry to support EDGE. No surprise, then, that Orange is punting the product into territories where it has EDGE in place. For now, that means France, where the device will be offered with an AZERTY keyboard rather than the QWERTY layout familiar to English speakers.

The device will come to Orange's UK customers in January 2006, and to the carrier's other territories - Belgium and Switzerland, initially - over subsequent months, said Jean-Marie Culpin, head of Orange France's enterprise business. However, he would not say whether the launch will be accompanied by the roll-out of an EDGE network in the UK. That he'll mention one but not the other raises the possibility that the Orange 8700 may not have EDGE support in the UK when it goes on sale.

Orange UK staffers have told us in the past that EDGE is a non- starter in Britain because of the availability of 3G. In France, the situation is different: 3G is less widespread, and more limited by geography than it is in the UK. Orange France sees EDGE as a key way to deliver higher data speeds to a broader range of consumers and business than is possible here with 3G, Culpin indicated. Some areas won't get 3G until the next decade, he said.

Yet Orange has shipped "many more" 3G Data Cards than Blackberries, Culpin said.

RIM executives at the event told The Register the 8700 will be offered by other networks, in addition to Orange, in a number of European countries, from early next year.

In France, the 8700f will ship to enterprise customers on 15 December, with a retail roll-out targeting consumers and small businesses commencing in January. The device will cost €199 when purchased with a two-year airtime contract, or €229 with a one- year contract. ®

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