Wi-Fi Blackberry hits the market

Research in Motion has finally released its first Wi-Fi Blackberry -- something it has been working on at for at least a year.

The eagerly awaited product has already been signed up by Nortel Networks and 3Com, with both offering systems that tie the new BlackBerry 7270 into company voice and wireless networks.

"Once users have adopted collaboration tools, the extension to the mobile arena will happen very quickly," said Paul Templeton, vice president of enterprise solutions at Nortel, which is adding the BlackBerry to an existing system that uses SIP to deliver email and corporate instant messaging to desktops.

The 7270, announced in October, is the first BlackBerry with no cell phone radio, and intended for "campus warriors" who roam a site but need access to email and other communications services.

Both Nortel and 3Com will put a SIP client on the device, and sell it to business users, alongside voice-only Wi-Fi handsets from Spectralink Corp. "First generation Wi-Fi phones haven't been terribly good, because of their battery life," said Mike Valiant, market development director for enterprise voice at 3Com. "This is the first in a portfolio of other Wi-Fi devices: it's good enough to put alongside the Spectralink devices."

The two companies are selling the 7270 as a device that offers instant messaging, e-mail and telephony in one handy unit, but offering it to people lower down the executive chain, who aren't so mobile, and can't run up the high mobile bill of a typical BlackBerry user.

"BlackBerry is typically bundled with a mobile phone service, and there is a fairly high charge associated with that," said Valiant. "This uses Wi-Fi only, so it's for customers who have people that are mobile within the organization, for instance, doctors, nurses, and people working in exhibition centers."

Both Nortel and 3Com say they will have a dual client in future, either from RIM or another provider. "In the very near future, we will extend SIP-based presence to GSM-based BlackBerrys. The only difference is that voice calls can use the GSM network -- attempting to use VoIP on GSM doesn't make a lot of sense today."

Both use the Wi-Fi switch they already use for voice on Wi-Fi -- in 3Com's case, this is from Trapeze Networks Inc., and in Nortel's it is the Airespace system, whose future at Nortel is in doubt since Cisco Systems bought Airespace.

Templeton denied Airespace was a problem: "We are taking some components from Airespace," he huffed. "The arrangement will continue. But we are certainly not ruling out the possibility that, as we always look for best of breed, we may source components from other partners."

"The key thing the switch delivers is the roaming for phone users," said Valiant. "Wi-Fi access points are targeted at static laptop users."

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