RIM boss sees "wireless wallet" ousting cash, IDs

The head of a company making top-of-the-range personal organizers on Monday outlined his vision of a "wireless wallet" that will scrap the need for passports, credit cards and drivers licenses and give users a cashless way to pay.

Jim Balsillie, chairman of Ontario-based Research In Motion , told a luncheon in Toronto that his "wireless wallet" could eliminate conventional identity documents and give consumers round-the-clock access to a virtual cash machine.

And the maker of two-way, Internet enabled wireless pagers said his firm was in "a delightful spot so far" to lead adoption of the concept because RIM works with the likes of America Online and Microsoft Corp. rather than competing with them.

"We understood what we wanted to be. We positioned ourselves as an enabling company rather than contenders... We endeavored to entrench and extend what was already there," Balsillie said.

Balsillie summed up his vision of a "wireless wallet" as a metaphor for something that carries all that is valuable.

And although the RIM pager has developed somewhat of a cult following with high profile users including Bill Gates and Al Gore, he said the redefinition of how people shop, bank or identify themselves will come with or without RIM.

Balsillie said his wireless vision would allow people to access databases and e-mails over their RIMs, the device will automatically re-book flights based on a schedule in the machine and use bar codes to authorize payments for goods or services.

RIM is an online pocket appliance with software both on the device itself and in remote locations like the company's own computer server. The Palm Pilot of Palm Inc - its main competitor - has a built-in operating system.

Balsillie said the "distinct architecture" of the RIM pager made it easier to build partnerships rather than pitting the company against well entrenched makers of operating systems.

RIM is in the process of co-marketing its Blackberry devices with Compaq Computer Corp and America Online Inc. in the U.S. It will launch a voice-enabled device in Europe with BT Cellnet in the first-quarter of 2001.

Critics of RIM have questioned how the company can remain competitive in a world of wireless devices dominated by the Palm Pilot with hundreds and thousands of devoted users.

"Our strategies are highly defensible. We don't compete with Microsoft or AOL but enable them," said Balsillie in reference to his companies prospects in light of strong and entrenched competitors.

Twelve years ago RIM bet that communications networks would send packets of data rather than the less efficient circuit technology of current networks, and much touted 3G (third generation) networks are making this vision a reality.

Europe is the first continent to start building 3G networks, which are designed to move data and voice at high speeds using packet technology, and in about a year North America should have these networks up and running.

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