BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) is launching a 4G version of its popular PlayBook tablet this summer with wireless carrier Sprint Nextel.

In a joint press release on Thursday, RIM and Sprint said the new 4G Tablet will deliver unmatched power and web performance and will be available exclusively from Sprint starting this Summer.

The BlackBerry 4G PlayBook will be the first BlackBerry PlayBook model to include wide area wireless connectivity, featuring Sprint 4G to give customers download speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G1. This new 4G model is expected to be available from Sprint in the summer, the release said.

RIM is decidedly focused on taking the intriguing tablet war to the tent of Apple CEO Steve Jobs who had lampooned the RIM tablet earlier, saying it will be dead on arrival.

For RIM, the USP of the tablet is its perceived security advantages vis-a-vis other products in the markets. It has consistently pitched the PlayBook to the corporate sector.

Though RIM hasn’t revealed the price of the new device, it's certain that the tablet, which is set to put the blazingly fast Sprint 4G network on fire, will be competitively priced against the Apple iPad, which sells at $499. What's at stake for major tablet players is a 50-million-unit market.

A Reuters report said on Thursday that analysts have forecast that on average, RIM will sell fewer than 4 million PlayBooks in the 12 months after its launch. It says Apple has sold more than 7 million iPads since launching the device in April.

RIM believes a significant portion of the tablet market will want a higher performing, multitasking, professional-grade tablet and that is why we chose to design the BlackBerry PlayBook for premium performance with a powerful dual-core processor and multitasking OS. Together with Sprint, we are now building on that performance advantage with 4G and providing an unparalleled mobile experience for users, Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO at RIM, said.

In addition to Wi-Fi support, the BlackBerry 4G PlayBook features a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM and the new BlackBerry Tablet OS. The ultra portable, ultra thin tablet will offer an uncompromised, high-fidelity web experience with support for Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR and HTML-5 enabling customers to enjoy all of the sites, games, media and richness of the full Internet, delivered at 4G speeds. Additional details and pricing will be released closer to launch.

WHY SPRINT NEXTEL?

Reuters quoted Jeff McDowell, senior vice president of enterprise and platform marketing for RIM, as saying RIM decided to go with Sprint for its first high-speed wireless compatible tablet because it has most ubiquitous 4G network at this point.

The choice of No. 3 U.S. mobile service Sprint as RIM's first carrier was an interesting one given that Sprint uses a high-speed wireless technology that is incompatible with networks being built by the top two U.S. mobile operators.

The RIM-Sprint statement said: Sprint 4G is currently available in 71 markets2 across the country, including Atlanta, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City. Sprint first launched 4G in Baltimore in September 2008 and continues to build its 4G service for consumers and business users across the country.

HANDS-ON DEMO

The PlayBook, which sports a fast dual-core processor, performed smoothly, the Reuters report said. ... (The Tablet) performed smoothly, as it went through its paces, loading websites and applications quickly and playing Flash-based videos on the Internet with ease.

Its software allows for multi-tasking and features a rotating carousel that shows all the programs that the device is running. A simple finger swipe up brings up the home screen, while a swipe out closes programs.