BlackBerry 10: For U.S. Carriers, the Waiting Continues

By Michelle Maisto  |  Print this article Print

With BlackBerry 10 sales weeks away, carriers are sharing what they can. Verizon is pricing the Z10 for $199.99 in black or (exclusive to Verizon) white.

Verizon Wireless is the only top-tier carrier sharing what for now passes for details about the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10, the forthcoming handsets that BlackBerry—as Research In Motion is now known—unveiled Jan. 30 at a New York City event.

AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile all released statements expressing their support for one or both of the smartphones and the new BlackBerry 10 platform, but all added that pricing and release dates will be forthcoming.

Verizon officials said in a Jan. 30 blog post that they will sell the Z10 for $199.99 with a new two-year contract in black and white color models, "with the white model being exclusive to Verizon Wireless."

"BlackBerry is back," Jeff Bradley, AT&T's senior vice president of devices and developer solutions, declared in a Jan. 30 statement, adding that the Z10 will be the first BlackBerry to run on AT&T's Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network.

Eventually, AT&T will also offer the Q10, which features a physical QWERTY keypad; the Z10 offers an improved virtual keyboard on its 4.2-inch display.

T-Mobile officials shared plans to offer the Z10 (no mention of the Q10), adding that customers will be able to pair it with T-Mobile's Unlimited Nationwide 4G Data plan, which now requires no annual contract. This suggests that T-Mobile plans to offer it without a subsidy and with a monthly financing plan, which would be consistent with a comment from BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, who said at the BlackBerry event that one carrier will offer it unsubsidized.

T-Mobile also plans to support the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 mobility management solution, which officials said will make it easy for its business customers to upgrade existing BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) infrastructure and support the Z10 and other devices.

Sprint instead plans to carry only the Q10 "later this year."

BlackBerry officials have said they expect the U.S. carriers to begin offering the Z10 by mid-March and the Q10 by mid-April. The news comes as a disappointment, given how long the BlackBerry faithful have already waited—BlackBerry 10 was nearly two years in the making—and the pace at which BlackBerry is losing market share to Apple, Samsung and other Android supporters.

At the BlackBerry event, Heins explained that all carriers received the final software for the phones at the same time, but U.S. carriers have yet to complete the steps necessary to support the phones.

"Testing in the U.S. is a rather lengthy process, but we want to respect that process," he said.

In the U.K., the process is seemingly far less involved, and the Z10 became available Jan. 31 through EE, 02, Vodafone, Phones 4u, BT, 3UK and the Carphone Warehouse, at varying price points. On Feb. 5, it will go on sale in Canada for $149.99 with a three-year contract.

While the new BlackBerry's devices and features pleased analysts well enough, their far-off launch dates were cause for worry, and share prices fell 12 percent following the BlackBerry event.

Canaccord Genuity analysts wrote in a Jan. 30 research note that, given their belief that BB will struggle to gain traction in a highly competitive smartphone market, "especially with a launch date for the QWERTY 10 only in April and the Z10 shipping only in mid-March in the U.S., we believe BlackBerry may eventually sell assets, sell the entire company or materially change its business model to a smaller niche supplier."

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Originally published on www.eweek.com.