T-Mobile rolls out voice-enabled BlackBerry

Germany is the first to get Europe's first voice-enabled BlackBerry wireless handheld, but it is coming to the UK later this year

German telco T-Mobile on Wednesday launched a combined wireless email, Internet access and voice service in Germany, the first of its kind in Europe. The service, based on the BlackBerry handhelds that are popular in the US, is expected to launch in Britain near the end of this year.

T-Mobile's service uses the dual-band BlackBerry 5820 Wireless Handheld from Canada's Research In Motion (RIM), incorporating a WAP browser and voice calling. The handhelds, sold to enterprises, are bundled with BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, which allows mailbox and calendar information to be forwarded to the device in a secure form.

In Europe, BlackBerry devices operate over GPRS, which creates an always-on data connection and eliminates the need to dial up a network. O2 began offering a BlackBerry service in the UK last year, but has yet to enable the voice functionality built into its handhelds, largely due to billing issues associated with GPRS. O2 also offers BlackBerry in the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany.

"T-Mobile will continue to leverage industry synergies to take the enterprise mobile," said Nikesh Arora, board member of T-Mobile International responsible for new business and global products, in a statement. "The BlackBerry solution is amongst the first of a number of products we will roll out this year."

T-Mobile's UK subsidiary was formerly known as One2One.

The announcement builds on a US deal announcd last year between RIM and VoiceStream, a US subsidiary of T-Mobile International. In March, RIM announced the voice-enabled BlackBerry 5810 for the US market, which will run on VoiceStream networks among others.

BlackBerry is the most popular wireless data device in the US, but it faces stiff competition in Europe, where a number of handhelds combinding email, Internet and mobile phone functions are arriving this year. Handspring offers colour and black-and-white versions of its Treo wireless phone-organiser, based on the Palm OS, and Nokia and Sony Ericsson sell their own variations on the theme.

Later this year O2 will launch the Xda (read the ZDNet UK review), which is based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system and puts browser, phone and organiser features into a PDA form factor. Microsoft software will also power the z100 smartphone from Sendo.

In March O2 said it had signed up 250 corporate customers for its BlackBerry service across the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany.

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