When You Talk, Pager Listens

RIM's voice-enabled BlackBerry 5180 handles speech, data at same time.

In a move to compete with cell phone and handheld computer makers, Research In Motion Ltd. last week unveiled a voice-enabled edition of its BlackBerry pager in the United States.

The BlackBerry 5180 will run on the GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) network and will be available within 30 days from AT&T Wireless and VoiceStream Wireless Inc., said officials in Waterloo, Ontario. Cingular Wireless will offer the device later this year. Pricing will be determined by the carriers, but the device is expected to cost about $500, in addition to fees for monthly service packages.

The device will work with RIMs BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which corporations have deployed behind their firewall, so there is no need to buy additional software on the back end. The device uses Java 2 Micro Edition as its core operating system.

"You can talk and use the data at the same time, which is great," said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM. "With the availability of 2.5G [networks] coupled with the power of a Java platform, weve implemented earlier and better than our competitors."

Handspring Inc. has introduced a device that combines a phone, a personal digital assistant and an e-mail pager, but the device supports only GSM, not GPRS, meaning wireless voice and data functions cannot run simultaneously.

The voice-enabled BlackBerry supports Short Message Service, which enables the exchange of text messages without adding e-mail to the inbox.

RIM shipped a voice-enabled BlackBerry to European carriers last year, but those carriers did not activate the voice functions. Balsillie said American carriers intend to do so.

In addition, RIM plans a Web-based application called BlackBerry Web Client, which will support Post Office Protocol 3, IMAP and ISP e-mail protocols and enable users to access multiple accounts from a single BlackBerry device. The application will be available to customers with individual BlackBerry accounts and those who use the device to access information behind a corporate firewall.

Meanwhile, RIM is forging partnerships with several companies to drive the BlackBerrys data functions beyond basic e-mail access.

Xerox Corp. and RIM last week announced that Xeroxs mDoc 3.0 software now supports the RIM platform, enabling customers to use the BlackBerry to edit e-mail attachments, such as forms and contracts, then resend them. RIM also announced a deal with Cognos Inc. The BlackBerry can now access Cognos NoticeCast alerting software. NoticeCast notifies users about changes in customer relationship management, supply chain activity and financial performance, among other things, according to the softwares specifications.