Sprint's BlackBerry Tour to sprout WiFi next year

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Sprint Nextel said it will release an updated version of the BlackBerry Tour next year that will include WiFi, a move that reflects the carrier's recent decision to require its smartphone suppliers to add WiFi into their devices for the carrier.

"Sprint is embracing WiFi in all its major devices going forward," said Jeff Clemow, the carrier's director of business product marketing.

Sprint is launching the BlackBerry Tour smartphone Sunday for $199.99. The device features support for both CDMA and GSM networks. Verizon Wireless also is offering the device Sunday, for the same price.

A major complaint among Tour reviewers is that the device does not support WiFi connections--a conspicuous situation considering many of RIM's devices for GSM carriers, such as the BlackBerry Bold for AT&T Mobility, do feature WiFi functions. To rectify the situation, Sprint's Clemow said the carrier will offer a version of the BlackBerry Tour starting next year that will include WiFi. He declined to provide a launch date for the device, other than to say that it will launch sometime after the first of the year.

The news could hamper Sprint's Tour sales this year if customers decide to wait until next year for the WiFi version of the device.

Clemow said Sprint decided to launch the current version of the Tour without WiFi so as not to fall behind the curve. "Speed to market ... outweighed the desire to wait for WiFi," he said.

Verizon Wireless declined to discuss its plans for the WiFi-capable Tour. "In terms of the BlackBerry Tour, I won't speak to that specific device but we are certainly working with RIM to be able to offer WiFi on future BlackBerry smartphones," said Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Boyd Raney, adding that the carrier currently offers a range of smartphones that include WiFi functions.

The action highlights Sprint's decision to embrace WiFi, despite the carrier's relatively weak position in the WiFi market. Sprint rivals AT&T and T-Mobile USA each have extensive WiFi efforts. Indeed, AT&T recently paid $275 million for WiFi service provider Wayport.

"It is now a requirement for all our PDA equipment suppliers to include WiFi," Clemow said, pointing to the new Palm Pre, which sports WiFi, as evidence of the carrier's new position. "Several quarters ago we made a conscious decision to require all of our PDA suppliers to support WiFi."

However, Clemow said the carrier has not set a specific date for its suppliers for the inclusion of WiFi.

With WiFi down, perhaps the next step for Sprint is to require WiMAX in its gadgets? Clemow declined to comment on the topic, saying only that the carrier continues to evaluate its WiMAX options. Sprint's partner Clearwire is building a mobile WiMAX network in markets throughout the United States, and Sprint is selling the service under the "Sprint 4G" moniker.

For more:
- see this article announcing the Tour

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