Verizon's Global BlackBerry

You can take this smartphone across all borders

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Last week, when my flight landed in Frankfurt, I switched on the new BlackBerry I was testing, and it promptly began to buzz with the e-mail that had come in while the plane was crossing the Atlantic. No surprise there—I've carried BlackBerrys everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires. But this model is the first from Verizon Wireless that's fully functional overseas.

International travel has been a mixed experience for mobile-phone toting Americans. If the service comes from AT&T/Cingular (T ) or T-Mobile (DT ) and the phone operates on the frequencies used outside the U.S., as most current models do, your phone will work nearly everywhere in the world. At most it takes a call to your carrier to authorize global service.

But for customers of Verizon Wireless, Sprint (S ), or any carrier whose service is based on Qualcomm's (QCOM ) CDMA technology, roaming service has been available in just a handful of countries outside North America, notably Korea and Japan. Suppose you wanted to keep your mobile number while traveling abroad. Your choices—until now—have been limited to a couple of clunky dual-mode world phones from Verizon or a plan where you rented a phone running on the global GSM standard, which would be assigned your regular mobile number temporarily. The new Verizon phone is a breakthrough, the first BlackBerry that works on both of the world's major mobile technologies.

RESEARCH IN MOTION'S BLACKBERRY 8830 World Edition ($300 after rebate, with a two-year contract) provides an elegant solution for globe-trotters. Its appearance and features are nearly identical to the BlackBerry 8800 introduced earlier this year (BW—Mar. 5), save for the inclusion of a much-improved media player and its lack of Global Positioning System navigation. But it is really two phones in one. If Verizon is not available, it will attempt to roam on another CDMA network, such as Telus (TU ) in Canada. If that doesn't work, the BlackBerry turns on its GSM radio and becomes a GSM handset running on Vodafone's network. (Vodafone (VOD ) owns 45% of Verizon Wireless.) This process is all but invisible to users. The main thing you'll notice is that data speeds will resemble bad dial-up on the GSM network. This drawback isn't so obvious when the BlackBerry downloads mail in the background, but big attachments will be slow coming in, and don't even think about Web browsing.

Verizon has made international data pricing attractive, though voice calls are still a painful $1.29 or $2.49 a minute. You get unlimited e-mails and other data in 60 countries for a $20 surcharge to the $45 monthly BlackBerry Service, on top of a domestic voice plan. This is a bit less than AT&T's international BlackBerry service. Verizon is also offering worldwide 24/7 tech support for the BlackBerry World Edition. That's a step up from the GSM versions offered by AT&T, T-Mobile, and others, which work around the world but leave you mostly on your own if something goes wrong.

The World Edition is aimed at BlackBerry's core market of mobile executives who use it mainly for corporate e-mail. But RIM (RIMM ) wants to expand into consumer markets as well. It has had considerable success with the Pearl, launched last fall; company officials say about a third of Pearl sales have been to consumers buying them for personal use. The BlackBerry 8300 Curve rounds out the line. This GSM-only phone is a bit smaller than the 8800 series, and, unlike its corporate-oriented siblings, it has a camera and a jack that takes audio earphones rather than a phone headset. It's wider than the Pearl, using the extra space to accommodate a full qwerty keyboard rather than the Pearl's two-letters-per-key approach.

RIM is competing in a field crowded with Palm (PALM ) Treos and Windows Mobile devices. Most of these are a lot more versatile than a BlackBerry because of the availability of third-party programs. But if rock-solid e-mail is your top priority, the BlackBerry may be your smartphone of choice.

For past columns and online-only reviews, go to Technology & You at businessweek.com/go/techmaven/

By Stephen H. Wildstrom

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