First BlackBerry comes to China

Chinese businessmen will soon be able to get their hands on Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry handset, following long months of delays getting approval to bring the devices to China.

RIM is showing off the first BlackBerry handset to be available in China, the BlackBerry 8700, at the PT/Expo Comm China 2007 exhibition this week in Beijing. But getting the device into the world’s largest mobile-phone market wasn’t easy.

In May 2006, RIM secured an agreement with China Mobile Communications Corp., the country’s largest mobile operator, to offer the BlackBerry push e-mail service starting from May of that year.

But Chinese regulators did not approve the BlackBerry handsets for sale in China until the first quarter of this year, meaning BlackBerry users had to bring in handsets from outside China, said Norm Lo, RIM’s vice president of Asia-Pacific, in a telephone interview.

Lo declined to say exactly how many BlackBerry subscribers there currently are in China, but said the number was in the “many thousands.”

Getting approval to sell handsets in China required RIM to team up with telecommunications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent SA in a distribution agreement. Alcatel-Lucent in turn tapped a handset joint venture it has with TCL Communications Holdings Co. Ltd., a Chinese handset maker, to secure the necessary approvals for the 8700, which will be sold in China starting later this year.

Clearing this regulatory hurdle opens up more of the Chinese market, with more than 500 million mobile subscribers, and the availability of BlackBerry handsets should help attract more customers to the push e-mail service, Lo said.