At VoiceCon 2005 in Orlando, Florida earlier this month, Research in Motion (RIM) demonstrated its new BlackBerry 7270 handheld, which works over 802.11b Wi-Fi rather than cellular networks. The company also announced joint marketing agreements with both 3Com and Nortelto encourage enterprise adoption of the device.
With more than two million BlackBerry handhelds and over 36,000 BlackBerry Servers in use, Don McMurtry, RIM's Vice President of Sales, says RIM took another look at its customer base and saw an unfulfilled need. "We've been addressing the needs of the road warrior, but we came to realize there's a whole other category of employee that we really haven't been reaching," he says.
That other category, McMurtry says, encompasses those employees who are highly mobile within their building or campus, but not particularly mobile off company property. Those people haven't usually received a BlackBerry or even a mobile phone in the past, but they do stand to benefit from the BlackBerry's functionality while they're away from their desk.
Killing many birds
Using the 7270 over a Wi-Fi network, a company can give its on-campus employees access to e-mail, voicemail, and the Web while they're on the move—and by using voice over IP, it can save money on phone charges in the process. "It really grew from customers saying, 'Listen, we have other types of users that would be interested in BlackBerry—can you figure out how to make the airtime a lot cheaper, or make the solution in a way that would lend itself towards the on-campus workers?' " McMurtry says.
Nortel will be marketing its Multimedia Communications Server (MCS) 5100 in conjunction with the BlackBerry 7270, while 3Com will be focusing on its Convergence Applications Suite. Both companies, McMurtry says, are exploring additional applications and functionality for the BlackBerry—particularly with regard to presence, the ability to have your BlackBerry respond differently to calls depending on where you are, what time it is, who's calling, and other factors.
Tough sell, or killer app?
Persuading enterprise customers to simultaneously adopt both VoIP and Wi-Fi is a challenge, McMurtry says—but he suggests that the 7270 could help motivate some companies to jump on the bandwagon. "We've had some of our major customers telling us that they view a BlackBerry running over 802.11 as a catalyst for both the adoption of 802.11 coverage and the adoption of voice over IP," he says. "It's sort of a chicken and the egg situation—you need to have the right applications to justify the deployment of the networks."
Peter Brockman, 3Com's Vice President of Product Marketing for Enterprise Solutions, says the fact that both companies' products are SIP-compliantmade working together infinitely easier than it might otherwise have been. "About ten days before the announcement, we received the first RIM products," he says. "Because they support SIP and we support SIP, we were able to integrate their device into our system in a very, very short period of time."
And Brockman suggests that 802.11b could well be the perfect technology for implementing wireless VoIP. "Companies don't mind putting voice on 802.11b," he says. "With an access point that supports 802.11a, b, and g, you can save your high-speed 54 Mbps services for LAN or PC data where the bandwidth is important, and leave the voice to the 802.11b, where you've got 11 Mbps."
Toward a tipping point
IDCSenior Research Analyst William Stofega says the announcement could help motivate more companies to consider VoIP. "If voice over IP is about collapsing boundaries, integrating disparate types of technologies, I think this is an important part," he says. "BlackBerry has an incredible installed base of dedicated and addicted users, and bringing this sort of element in, offering a total package with an IP-enabled PBX, is something that is going to be attractive."
The potential for VoIP to save money, Stofega says, is still its strongest selling point. "If you put some of the traffic on an integrated device on an integrated network, and you can blast that traffic through their LAN and out towards an IP connection, it really cuts costs in terms of on-net calling," he says. "And that's the ultimate goal—cost-cutting, more than anything, is what's really launching voice over IP applications and technologies in the enterprise."