EarthLink to offer voice, data Blackberry device

Internet Service Provider (ISP) EarthLink Inc. Wednesday announced it is extending its reach as a communications company by offering Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry 7750, which is both a wireless phone and a data device.

"We've offered Blackberry devices for a couple of years, but this is the first device we've offered that has both voice and data capabilities. It is a natural next step for us," said EarthLink spokesman Dave Blumenthal.

Atlanta-based EarthLink enters an already crowded BlackBerry market, but according to Blumenthal, there are advantages for users who are heavy e-mail subscribers. "Some companies offering BlackBerries are voice experts, whereas we're e-mail experts and offer features such as spam blockers and spyware protection," Blumenthal said.

The ISP has 5.2 million Internet customers, and already has what Blumenthal described as a loyal BlackBerry customer base, though he declined to disclose specific numbers. The company believes quite a few of its current BlackBerry customers will upgrade to the BlackBerry 7750, and that the new device will allow EarthLink to build on that base.

EarthLink will sell the device, produced by the Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion, for US$549, though it is currently offering a $150 discount as part of the rollout of the service. For unlimited data, pricing plans will begin at $39.95 per month, while for about $80 per month subscribers can get 500 minutes of calling and free nights along with the unlimited data.

EarthLink plans to offer other handheld wireless voice and data devices in the future, but would not disclose which devices those would be and when EarthLink would begin offering them.

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