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Article posted: 2/9/2013 7:22 AM

T-Mobile says BlackBerry 10 testing well for mid-march debut

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NEW YORK -- T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest U.S. mobile-service provider, says its tests of the new BlackBerry Z10 are going well, and it's aiming to be the first American carrier "out of the gate" with the phone next month.

"The device is more stable than we anticipated," said Frank Sickinger, head of business sales at T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom. "If we are able to speed up the launch date, we will do that. Right now it's looking like mid-March."

The encouraging words come a week after BlackBerry unveiled the new phone, which is already on sale in Britain and Canada. BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd., didn't give a firm U.S. release date, saying the Z10 would be available sometime in March. That raised concern among investors, who drove down BlackBerry's stock 17 percent in the two days after the debut event.

The United States is BlackBerry's largest single market, and the company is counting on the new phone to win back customers lost to Apple's iPhone and Google's Android. After pioneering the smartphone industry, BlackBerry has seen its share of the market fall to the single digits.

While the price of the Z10 hasn't been determined yet, Sickinger said the $199 price BlackBerry announced Jan. 30 is consistent with what T-Mobile USA has considered. T-Mobile USA, based in Bellevue, Wash., should be able to offer the Z10 to business customers about a week before retail sales start, Sickinger said.

For T-Mobile USA, which is merging with MetroPCS Communications Inc., the Z10 could provide a new way to woo customers -- especially business users. The carrier has been struggling to keep pace with rivals Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. Still, all the big carriers eventually plan to offer the new phone. BlackBerry, based in Waterloo, Ontario, said last week that lengthier testing procedures were behind the longer wait for the product in the U.S.

T-Mobile USA Chief Executive Officer John Legere has vowed to shake up the industry with measures such as selling phones on installment plans, rather than the typical approach of subsidizing the devices in return for two-year commitments.

In business services, where AT&T and Verizon dominate, Sickinger sees an opportunity to build on T-Mobile USA's 5.5 percent market share. The arrival of new devices like the BlackBerry Z10 will help win business customers, he said. T- Mobile also will offer Apple's iPhone later this year for the first time.

"I'm glad to see BlackBerry launch a relevant product," Sickinger said. "BlackBerry stands to do very well in 2013 with T-Mobile."

BlackBerry shares rose 5.7 percent to $16.96 at the close in New York.

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