San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Blackberry Sí, iPhone No

Smart phone lovers in Costa Rica no longer have to cross oceans or make backalley deals to get what they want.

Blackberry devices will be available as early as July 2008 through the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).

But its competitor – Apple’s iPhone – has not yet brokered a deal with the state telephone monopoly, despite Internet rumors it was coming. An ICE spokeswoman said the two parties have not had any contractual discussions.

Costa Rica is one of few Latin American countries that will not have official access to the iPhone.

ICE will obtain 1,500 Blackberry devices, in both the Curve and Pearl models, to sell at specified retailers at prices ranging from ¢250,000 (about $500) to ¢350,000 (about $700).

Meanwhile, América Móvil (AM), Latin America’s top cell phone operator, has signed a deal with Apple to introduce the iPhone to 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile.

The Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) could come to tech-loving Ticos’ rescue.

On Wednesday, the Legislative Assembly passed a liberalizing telecom bill tied to CAFTA.

Foreign mobile carriers are banking on CAFTA’s potential to open the doors wide for them to race after Costa Rica’s wireless service industry. Patience is key, as such an opening could take years.

Savvy technology hounds know, however, that the latest technology can be had now with some creative hunting.

IPhone-toting Ticos have bought them at unofficial cell phone dealers for inflated prices or purchased them abroad.Each phone must be unlocked, a process which – if done incorrectly – could completely disable the device.

The first models, Global System for Mobile (GSM) iPhones, were released in the United States last June and slowly trickled down to Costa Rica.

“It seems to me that it’s very common to see someone with an iPhone,” said Jonathan Morales, a support technician with the national Mac distributor Icon.

Smart phones are more than mere mobile phones. They typically come equipped with Internet and e-mail accessibility, agendas, camera and video capability and a GPS system – among other programs.

The next generation of iPhone, the 3G, is rumored to come equipped with more features than the GSMs.

Currently, ICE does not have the technology to support 3G devices, but it has promised to be 3G-compatible by the early part of 2009, according to a report in the weekly El Financiero.

Marvin Bermúdez, a certified Apple technician and a big fan of all things Apple, boasted to have the second GSM iPhone brought to Costa Rica.

After unlocking and toying with the device for three months, Bermúdez said, he mastered all its functions. He looks forward to the release of Apple’s 3G iPhone, thought to be toward the end of June.

The tech aficionado had a simple answer for why he wants to purchase the 3G:

“Because it’s Apple.”


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