RIM Takes Global Route

Research in Motion makes move to woo enterprise customers with an international version of its smart phone that supports GSM and GPRS.

Research in Motion Ltd. is preparing for increased competition from wireless carriers by going global with the development of an international smart phone for the enterprise.

Building on its line of BlackBerry wireless devices with voice support, the Waterloo, Ontario, company has plans for an international version of its handheld pager, due this fall, that supports GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks in both the 900MHz and 1900MHz frequency bands, officials said.

The company is also developing a device that supports Code Division Multiple Access/ 1xRTT networks and another for the two-way radio iDEN network, both of which are due by years end.

In addition, RIM has licensed the reference design for its 5810 voice/data device, and several licensees will offer devices based on it, RIM officials said. "Youll see them this year from major phone companies [and] computer companies," said RIM Chairman and co-CEO Jim Balsillie here at TechXNY.

By the end of the year, RIMs BlackBerry devices will also feature color screens and an enhanced media engine that supports scalable vector graphics, officials said.

Analysts agreed that wooing new customer categories within the enterprise is a smart move. "The battle for RIM is penetrating deeper into existing accounts," said Sarah Kim, an analyst at The Yankee Group, in Boston. "Right now, it tends to be financial groups within larger organizations."

But even Balsillie acknowledged RIM might be spreading itself thin in supporting myriad phone networks. "The reality is the carrier market globally is a fragmented business, and our model is to partner with the carriers," he said. "What carrier hasnt said that data is their future?"

Beyond courting the carriers, there is the challenge of persuading customers to look at the BlackBerry device as a phone. The upcoming devices work like traditional phones—users can hold them up to their heads rather than through an ear bud—but some customers remain unconvinced.

"The RIM isnt shaped well to be a phone," said Christopher Bell, chief technology officer at People2People Group, in Boston. Bell uses a BlackBerry for e-mail only. "For me to see using it as a [personal digital assistant, pager and cell phone], they need to address a host of weaknesses, [such as] physical dimensions for travel and for use as a phone, interface as an organizer, and platform flexibility," Bell said.

There are no immediate plans to make BlackBerry look more like a phone, officials said. The upcoming models are flatter but just as wide and square as existing models.

RIM is addressing the application issue. The company last week announced a feature for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, due this fall, that enables corporations to deploy wireless applications beyond e-mail to BlackBerry handhelds.

"The carriers have been talking about working with ISVs, but they havent delivered," RIMs Balsillie said. "Weve given the ISVs a way to play with the carriers."

Also on the software front, the company plans to offer the ability to delete e-mail messages from the server remotely, something that competitor Good Technology Inc. offers. Beyond that, RIM has no plans to get rid of the cradle.

"You need a cradle," Balsillie said, "especially in the enterprise."

The RIM CEO said the cradle is necessary both for power charging and to securely exchange private keys.

"There will be some minor synchronization enhancements [coming], but at the end of the day, you still need a cradle," Balsillie said.

RIM sued Good this month, alleging that Goods products and services infringe on four RIM patents; these range from patents for a method to control gateway functions in a wireless network to a patent for a thumb-optimized mobile device.

Good, of Sunnyvale, Calif., last month signed a deal with Cingular Wireless wherein the carrier will use Goods technology for wireless data services, with eventual plans to resell Goods G100 wireless handheld device.

Related stories:

  • RIM Offers More Flavors of BlackBerry
  • Carriers Expand BlackBerry Services
  • RIM Extends BlackBerrys Data Features
  • RIM Offers BlackBerry Reference Designs
  • Review:BlackBerry 5810 Heeds Call for Fewer Gadgets