Late last week, RIM got FCC approval to ship LTE models of its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. The news isn’t a complete surprise. RIM had announced plans for a 4G PlayBook option last year when the tablet originally shipped. Sprint was the targeted as the primary U.S. carrier for the device, which would’ve operated on Sprint’s WiMax network, but the carrier announced it was canceling that plan after the initial Wi-Fi PlayBook shipped (and got less than stellar reviews).
Following the demise of its WiMax plans, RIM announced that it would work towards developing and LTE model, though it didn’t provide any real timeline for when one might ship. Most recently, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told attendees at BlackBerry World in Orlando that a LTE model was in the works and would ship later this year.
According to All Things D, the FCC approval’s details have been kept largely confidential beyond mentioning major antennas in the device – those include Wi-Fi (no real surprise) and LTE as well as short-range antennas for Bluetooth and NFC.
There’s no word yet on LTE connectivity beyond North America – currently LTE iPads can only connect to LTE networks in the U.S. and Canada.
This can be seen as a sign of progress on RIM’s part – at least the company is working towards meeting current connectivity needs and capabilities. On the other hand, RIM’s consumer-oriented focus during the PlayBook’s launch and the initial lack of enterprise features (including email and calendaring) pretty much served RIM’s core businesses to Apple on a silver platter.
It’s hard to say if LTE will ultimately help RIM be competitive. The company is still playing catch up to Apple (and even Android tablet makers – including Amazon and Barnes & Noble). RIM’s best chance at turning LTE into a competitive advantage is likely to be pushing into markets outside North America where the iPad can’t currently compete in the 4G/LTE space.
Ultimately, given the minuscule amount of PlayBooks shipped compared to the iPad – Apple sold more iPads over the new iPad launch weekend in March than RIM has shipped in the past year, it’s hard to see anyone beyond die-hard BlackBerry fans getting overly excited by the possibility of LTE PlayBooks.