HONG KONG (Reuters) - TCL Corp began sending BlackBerry handsets to partner China Mobile in 2007’s fourth quarter, suggesting the launch of the popular email device in China is just around the corner.
Chinese newspapers have reported that the smartphones could go on sale this month, marking a breakthrough for Research in Motion Ltd’s years-long effort to launch its device in the world’s top telecoms arena and the final major Asian market left untapped.
RIM had expected sales to commence in 2007. But executives said just last week it was now for service partner China Mobile to decide when the BlackBerry would hit store shelves.
TCL Multimedia and TCL Communication, both units of parent TCL Corp, said on Tuesday they started dispatching handsets to China Mobile in the fourth quarter as the device’s sole manufacturer and distributor in that country.
“They’ve shipped the handsets, yes, but the decision (on when they go on sale) lies with China Mobile,” said Lorna Wong, an appointed spokeswoman for the TCL group, reaffirming RIM’s stance.
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.
TCL would not forecast sales or take-up, she added. China Mobile executives declined to comment.
RIM says no handsets had been sold officially in mainland China, though BlackBerry devices are widely available on auction sites and on the black market.
The firm said in October that a concurrent deal with Alcatel-Lucent to help distribute the BlackBerry smartphones in China, and its partnership with China Mobile, gave it a powerful platform in a market that has more wireless users than there are people in the United States.
But analysts say delays in the device’s launch may have arisen because the Ontario-based RIM needed to satisfy Beijing that its handsets posed no security threat to Chinese communication networks.
The BlackBerry is available now from more than 300 carriers in about 120 countries.
Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Louise Ireland