RIM to Expand BlackBerry Connect Service

The company says it plans to add support for 20 more devices, including Palm OS handhelds, and will roll out a dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular BlackBerry by the end of the year.

NEW YORK—Research In Motions co-CEO and Chairman James Balsillie says the company will release a version of its popular BlackBerry handheld device by the end of the year that includes both Wi-Fi and cellular technology.

In addition, RIM, of Waterloo, Ontario, will expand its BlackBerry Connect service in the United States, with the service coming to Palm devices in July, Balsillie told eWEEK June 28 at the C3 Expo here. BlackBerry Connect allows non-BlackBerry devices to use the BlackBerry network. "Twenty non-BlackBerry devices can use the BlackBerry service now," Balsillie said, adding that 20 more would be able to use it this year.

Currently BlackBerry Connect works only with GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) devices, but Balsillie said that CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) carriers would be adding the capability to their BlackBerry networks in the near future. He said that the focus is on GSM because "providers want to be able to sell their devices to 200 carriers in 100 countries."

Balsillie also said that RIM would be introducing new features to BlackBerry devices, including MP3 players, video, memory expansion and image capture, very soon. In addition, he said that GPS would be included in virtually all BlackBerry devices, except for some that would work with a Bluetooth GPS receiver.

RIM is expanding its role in several areas of the enterprise, Balsillie said in his keynote address. "The most important thing in wireless data is security," he said. Balsillie noted that the process of opening a persistent connection using wireless is a problem. "The risk is pandemic," he said. He added that security is the BlackBerrys "long suit." He said that the RIM middleware and the BlackBerry are approved by a wide variety of government agencies, including the NSA. "Were very active in the military," he said, criticizing other wireless companies that he said have added security as an afterthought.

Balsillie said that RIM was offering the "promise of process re-engineering." He said that it included the ability to mobilize services and sales, IT operations and to mobilize industry professionals. He said that this included the ability to use enterprise instant messaging as well as public IM accounts and Web services. "The BlackBerry is more than just e-mail," he said.

Balsillie said that RIM can now support the extension of any enterprise application to mobile users using a software interface provided by BlackBerry and available for free or at nominal cost. He said that the company would be offering mobile data services using an open mobile applications platform that is standards-based. He also said that RIM was now including virtual PBX connections for both TDM- and SIP-based phone systems so that the phone could be used directly with a companys PBX, whether it was a legacy system or an IP PBX.

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Balsillie said that one area that was starting to grow quickly was the market for BlackBerry peripherals. He said these included printers, bar-code scanners, RFID (radio-frequency identification) scanners, and digital pen and paper. "Its imperative that you dont get dead-ended," he said.

Balsillie told eWEEK after his presentation that one goal was to expand wireless in the enterprise and thus drive down the cost—and improve the ROI—for companies. He said that this goal didnt just apply to the BlackBerry platform, although he did admit that hed like to see everyone with a BlackBerry. "The price of a data plan on a cell phone is a simple and an insignificant value-add to the enterprise," he said.

Balsillie refused to answer questions about rumors that RIM was in discussions to buy Palm, saying only that his company sees itself as "one in a plurality of wireless device providers." He also declined to say which BlackBerry he thought was the coolest; he said they were different to meet the needs of different users.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...