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Wednesday, January 05, 2011, 10:55 pm PT (01:55 am ET)

RIM announces 4G PlayBook coming to Sprint summer 2011

Research in Motion has revealed plans to release a 4G version of its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet this summer on the Sprint Nextel network, according to a new report.

According to Reuters, the BlackBerry maker announced the plans while touting "massive" corporate interest in the device.

"In large companies, they're talking deployment in the tens of thousands, right off the bat," said Jeff McDowell, RIM's senior vice president of enterprise and platform marketing. According to McDowell, corporations are seeing the PlayBook as an essential tool to employees, just like a phone or a PC.

RIM apparently decided to use Sprint because it has the most "ubiquitous 4G network at this point." Sprint is currently the third largest wireless network in the U.S., with only Verizon and AT&T having more subscribers.

Wireless carriers in the U.S. are currently in a 4G 'arms race,' vying for the titles of "fastest" and "largest" 4G network. AT&T on Wednesday outlined accelerated plans to deploy 4G LTE technology. Meanwhile, Verizon has begun rolling out its own 4G LTE network.

The PlayBook tablet was available for hands-on demonstrations for the first time Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show. The device "performed smoothly as it went through its paces," according to the report.

RIM has yet to set a price for the PlayBook, though the company has said it will sell the device for "under $500." A Wi-Fi only version of the device is expected to launch in the first quarter of this year.

The report also noted that, according to McDowell, the PlayBook's battery life "will last as long or longer than other 7-inch tablets." Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy Tab gets approximately 6 hours of battery life. By comparison, Apple's iPad gets 10 hours of battery life.

McDowell called concerns about Adobe Flash reducing battery life "absurd generalizations."

Analyst Shaw Wu of Kaufman Bros. recently expressed concerns over development of the PlayBook, citing sources who claim that test units of the tablet only get "a few hours" of battery life. RIM quickly fired back, denying the claims and promising "superior performance with comparable battery life." Despite RIM's denials, Wu issued a follow-up report maintaining his stance that even matching the Samsung Galaxy Tab's battery life would require "significant engineering."

Apple CEO Steve Jobs remains skeptical about 7-inch tablets, believing they "will be dead on arrival, and manufacturers will realize they're too small and abandon them next year. They'll then increase the size, abandoning the customers and developers who bought into the smaller format."