China Mobile, the mainland's largest cellular network operator, will begin a nationwide roll-out of the BlackBerry service this year, ensuring many more corporate thumbs will soon be tapping out wireless e-mail messages on the device. Canadian firm Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry personal digital assistant and 'push' e-mail platform, and China Mobile will offer the wireless data service in all 31 provinces to an initial market of multinationals. The announcement on Thursday came about 20 months after RIM and China Mobile signed a memorandum of understanding to deliver the BlackBerry service to the carrier's general packet radio service network. It is expected to be ready by the third quarter. 'We are looking forward to strong demand and adoption of BlackBerry by high-end business users,' said Norm Lo, vice-president for RIM, Asia Pacific. 'Many business travellers have already been using BlackBerry via expensive roaming services from other markets. There is also significant pent-up demand from multinationals doing business in China.' China Mobile, the world's biggest cellular network operator by number of subscribers, will first provide subscriber identity module cards to support BlackBerry service. The availability of BlackBerry wireless handheld devices and BlackBerry Enterprise Server will be announced at a later date. Analysts expect BlackBerry to catch on fast with mainland business users who have a growing need for efficient, wireless corporate e-mail access. 'This market segmentation offers a lot of upside for China Mobile because its enterprise customers require more value-added solutions beyond short message services that provide low mobile costs,' said Duncan Clark, managing director at telecommunications and technology consultancy BDA China in Beijing. Mr Clark said that China Mobile had signed up 1.11 million enterprise accounts, covering 66.6 million business users, by the end of last year. Manny Lopez, senior analyst at research firm International Data Corp, said: 'The multinational corporations and embassies will be pretty easy for China Mobile and BlackBerry to penetrate.' With China Mobile behind the marketing of BlackBerry, RIM was also looking to knock the wind out of China Unicom's campaign for its own RedBerry enterprise wireless e-mail service, launched last month, Mr Lopez said. Still, the rest of the mainland's business user population would be a tough market to crack for China Mobile and BlackBerry. 'Pen-based data input remains the most popular on the mainland, not the BlackBerry devices' qwerty keyboard method,' Mr Lopez said. But China Mobile will offer RIM's Chinese-language support and other market-specific features. 'A key strength and focus is definitely beyond e-mail,' Mr Lo said. RIM estimates there are about 4.9 million BlackBerry users worldwide. The Ottawa-based company posted revenue of US$2.07 billion in the 12 months to March 4, up 53 per cent from US$1.35 billion a year ago.