RIM says BlackBerry on track in China;no sales yet

BEIJING, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Research in Motion Ltd RIM.TO said on Thursday its business in China is developing as planned, although the company has not yet started selling handsets there.

Charles Liu, RIM's general manager for China, indicated that the decision about when to sell its smartphones was in the hands of its service partner, China Mobile 0941.HKCHL.N. RIM had said in October it expected sales to start in 2007.

“You should ask China Mobile about the timeline,” Liu, RIM’s top executive in China, told Reuters. “From my perspective, everything is according to plan.”

A RIM spokeswoman confirmed that no handsets had been officially sold yet in the mainland Chinese market. China Mobile was not immediately available for comment.

RIM said in October that it had sent its first shipment of BlackBerry phones to China and expected to start selling them later in the year. Analysts hailed that as a major breakthrough in RIM’s long quest to penetrate the market.

RIM said at the time that a deal with Alcatel-Lucent ALU.N to distribute BlackBerry smartphones in China, and its existing service partnership with China Mobile, gave it a powerful platform.

“We are working with China Mobile to build a step-by-step approach,” Liu said on the sidelines of a business conference in Beijing. “In building our business in China, we are focused on our partnership.”

RIM has long recognized China’s importance in its global plans and first officially announced plans to sell the BlackBerry there in May 2006.

Rumored delays may have arisen in the past because the Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM needed to satisfy Beijing that its handsets posed no security threat to China’s communication networks, according to sector analysts.

China Mobile has launched the SIM card business for the BlackBerry and Liu said that business was healthy, although he declined to give the number of subscribers.

“In general, we’re satisfied with how the business is growing here, it’s very good,” he said.

“China Mobile is basically targeting enterprises. Later on more services will be launched, but we need to start from somewhere,” he added.

When the BlackBerry handset is officially launched in China, it will face stiff competition from low-cost rivals, including a popular local service nicknamed RedBerry.

“It’s always fun to work in a competitive environment and BlackBerry has always welcomed competition,” Liu said.

The BlackBerry is available from more than 300 carriers around the world in about 120 countries and China represents its last major Asian frontier.

(Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch)

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