UPDATE 1-Russian telcos to launch BlackBerry in Q1 2008
(Adds MTS comments, background)
MOSCOW Nov 27 (Reuters) - Two top Russian mobile firms, MTS (MBT.N) and Vimpelcom VIP.N, said on Tuesday they would start selling Research In Motion's RIM.TO BlackBerry phones in Russia after reaching deal with state security services.
The New-York listed firms said they had received approval from regulators, including the powerful FSB, the successor of the Soviet Union's KGB, to begin shipping and operating the BlackBerry smartphones.
MTS and Vimpelcom have not been able to bring the BlackBerry to Russia for several years as the FSB required RIM to provide codes it uses to encrypt traffic. The companies did not say on what basis the compromise had been reached.
The operators said they were planning to start selling the phones and servicing corporate clients in the first quarter of 2008. The permission was granted for one year.
"The scheme, coordinated with FSB, fully complies with the requirements of the Russian law," MTS said in a statement.
MTS Vice President Mikhail Shamolin, speaking on a conference call, said the level of security and confidentiality would match the global standards of the BlackBerry services.
He declined to disclose the size of the planned investments, but said MTS was confident the project will break even.
In October, MTS launched the BlackBerry in Ukraine, first among the twelve former Soviet Union states. In Russia, corporate clients are able to use the BlackBerry devices with foreign SIM-cards via roaming.
Apart from Russia and Ukraine, MTS, controlled by services conglomerate Sistema (SSAq.L), operates in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia and Belarus.
Vimpelcom, owned by Russian Alfa Group and Norway's Telenor (TEL.OL), services clients in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Tajikistan and Georgia.
A Vimpelcom spokeswoman said the company had been cleared to ship 1,050 of the 8700 model, versions of which RIM RIMM.O has been selling for several years.
MTS spokeswoman said the company had been allowed to ship around 1,000 phones. Shamolin said MTS would sell in Russia all BlackBerry models available on the market.
The companies will be able to start shipping the handsets after they are certified by Russian regulators.
The BlackBerry is a wireless handheld device available on about 300 networks in 120 countries. It supports push e-mail, mobile telephone, messaging, web browsing and other wireless communication services. (Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Anastasia Teterevleva; writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by David Cowell)