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Report: RIM Preps Touch-Screen BlackBerry

The Wall Street Journal reports that Research In Motion (RIMM) is planning to release its touch-screen Blackberry 9500 -- codenamed Thunder -- in the third quarter of this year.

The article states that Verizon Wireless will have a "lifetime" exclusive on the handset in the U.S. Vodafone (VOD), which is a partner in Verizon Wireless along with Verizon Communications (VZ), will be the exclusive agent worldwide.

This means the Thunder will probably be jammed-packed with radio circuitry - CDMA and EV-DO for the United States, as well as GSM/EVDO/EDGE/HSDPA for other countries. There's also information that states the phone will be able to handle what looks like the next big thing -- the 4G wireless data technology called LTE.

Today's report comes on the heels of RIM's announcement last week of its upcoming, feature-laden, AT&T/Blackberry Bold (T) cellphone, which is currently awaiting U.S. government two-way radio handset approval

If the phone is indeed available by the third quarter, it will arrive just in time to compete with the second-generation Apple (AAPL) iPhone, the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Google-backed (GOOG) Gphone, Garmin's (GRMN) nuviphone, AT&T/LG's Vu, Sprint/Samsung Instinct (S), Sony/Ericsson's (SNE) (ERIC) Xperia, or any other upcoming smartphone you can think of.

RIM to Release iPhone Killer This Fall

A number of bloggers have been posting photos of what they think the new Blackberry Thunder might look like. The authenticity of those photos is another story. They look very manipulated.

A Research in Motion representative, citing company policy, declined to comment on "rumors and speculation."

There are no rumors yet as to what astronomical monthly fees Verizon Wireless might decide to charge for the new phone along with domestic voice, domestic high-speed data, international voice and data as well as upcoming 4G data network access.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.

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