By Scott Moritz
May 15, 2008

By Scott Moritz

Out of Research in Motion’s (RIMM) clouds comes Thunder, to be followed by – what else – Storm.

All the sound and fury signifies something in the works by the BlackBerry maker. Thunder is the codename for a touchscreen phone coming to Verizon (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD) this year. Mobile phone blog BoyGeniusReport was first with the scoop and at least one analyst says it checks out with his telco sources.

Soon after, possibly early next year, a follow-up touchscreen device – codenamed Storm will arrive at AT&T (T), according to other sources familiar with RIM’s product roadmap.

Thunder, the first touchscreen phone to be developed by RIM, is scheduled to start selling in November, says Canaccord Adams analyst Peter Misek. That is later than the third quarter timeframe BoyGenius reported, but still in time for the all important holiday buying season.

With Apple’s (AAPL) 3G iPhone coming next month exclusively to AT&T and selling at a $200 discount, Verizon is apparently eager to secure its own touchscreen smartphone, and has promised RIM it will sell millions of Thunders to guarantee exclusivity, sources told BoyGeniusReport. Analysts agreed with the logic of such a deal but the details could not be confirmed.

Verizon declined to comment and a RIM representative was not immediately available for comment.

Verizon has been a little light in the smartphone category over the past year. The LG Voyager was not exactly the iPhone killer Verizon had hoped, and the No. 2 wireless shop is just now getting the BlackBerry Curve, a phone that has been popular with AT&T for nearly a year.

Sales volume commitments are nothing new in the industry, says Michael Cote, an independent analyst based in Chicago. Generally speaking, says Cote, “Verizon would like to have a device that launches with them first. And it’s in RIM’s best interest to establish parity between the carriers. There’s not much downside to granting Verizon an exclusive.”

Presumably, the phone will be dual mode 3G allowing it to work on Verizon’s EV-DO network and on Vodafone’s UMTS system, say observers. The combined selling power of Verizon and Vodafone offer RIM a big sales opportunity, according to analysts.

“Both Verizon and Vodafone are likely to devote massive marketing dollars to the campaign, which could lead to another blockbuster product for RIM,” Canaccord’s Misek wrote in a research note.

The Thunder reports come just three days after RIM introduced its next BlackBerry, called Bold, which was to have arrived in AT&T’s stores next month, but has been delayed until at least August. The unveiling came during a conference for wireless industry developers and analysts sponsored by RIM in Florida this week.

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