Balsillie: Demand for Wireless Rising

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2002-10-15

Balsillie: Demand for Wireless Rising

LAS VEGAS – As it melds its data services with upcoming voice support, Research In Motion Ltd. is moving away from its direct offerings and toward a strict, carrier-centric approach to its services, according to the wireless vendors chief executive.

"They want to provision and they want to bill," RIM CEO Jim Balsillie said during a keynote session at CTIA Wireless IT here on Wednesday morning. "I would never know how to bill voice anyway."

The shift comes as RIM offcials remain bullish on wireless in the enterprise. Despite financial troubles for wireless carriers, RIM is refuting the notion that all is dire in the world of wireless data services by rolling out new devices for several different networks.

"Its an exceedingly ironic time because what is seen is dramatically different from reality," said Balsillie in an interview with eWEEK in advance of the show here.

"The preconditions are in place," Balsillie said. "The question is whether the preconditions are in place for a significant [return on investment.] My answer would be a resounding yes."

IT professionals seem to agree that the promise for wireless services is better now than it was a couple of years ago when the industry was hyping WAP (wireless application protocol), the basis of many wireless browsers.

"The things we tried to do a few years ago are finally happening now," said Joseph Ferra, chief wireless officer of Fidelity Investments Inc., who joined Balsillie on stage.

RIM today announced shipment of the 6710, a BlackBerry device that runs on the GPRS (general packet radio service) 2.5G network and supports both voice and data. Both T-mobile and AT&T Wireless Services plan to offer the 6710. The device follows the 5810, a data-only GPRS e-mail pager that is shipping now. RIM also continues to ship devices that run on Cingular Wireless Inc.s Mobitex network, a precursor to GPRS that enabled push-based e-mail solutions before 2.5G networks existed.

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Balsillie said RIM will continue to support Mobitex but sees GPRS and CDMA1x, (next-generation code division multiple access) networks as the future because many carriers support them.

"If youre going to solve an enterprises problem its pretty multi-faceted," he said. "Were trying to be a global provider."

Within the next thirty days, there should be RIM devices shipping that support additional networks beyond GPRS. Sources say Verizon Wireless Inc. will offer one that supports CDMA1x. Also in the works in that time frame is a long-awaited 6510 device that supports Nextel Communications Inc.s iDen network and works as an e-mail pager, phone and walkie-talkie.

While analysts have questioned the viability of next-generation wireless networks and the carriers ability to offer decent services in light of spectrum woes, Balsillie said that the majority of GPRS and CDMA1x carriers are fully equipped to run voice and data services for the BlackBerry.

Balsillie also demonstrated to eWEEK a prototype of a tri-band BlackBerry device with a color screen, which AT&T Wireless may offer as soon as the beginning of next year. To further support a global market, RIM is working on support for Asian character fonts, Balsillie said.

RIM also plans to announce this week that two major device manufacturers plan to build products based on RIMs hardware design for the 5810, which the company began licensing in April.

On the server side, RIM is in beta trials with a version of its BlackBerry Server that enables users to view e-mail attachments. This should be officially available by December, Balsillie said.

"Number one is [users] want this 2.5G stuff. Number two is they want their choice of a bunch of carriers or transports. Number three is the standards. Number four, they want devices that work all over the world," he said.

(Editors Note: This story has been updated since its original posting to add additional reporting from Balsillies keynote address.)

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