Bill Crawford, equity analyst with Merrill Lynch enjoys the mobility that he has gained by using the BlackBerry wireless handheld, but he warns the product does have a downside.

“Its like a good narcotic, once addicted you’re not going to give it up,” said Crawford.

Research In Motion Limited (RIM), manufacturer of the BlackBerry has signed an agreement with Merrill Lynch to supply more than 1500 Merrill Lynch employees with the device.

The BlackBerry comes in two flavours: the BlackBerry Desktop and BlackBerry Enterprise server. The BlackBerry Desktop comes with a handheld unit, e-mail and personal organizer software (pre-loaded), PC docking cradle to synchronize with the desktop, and synchorization software.

Mark Guibert, director of marketing with RIM says the “push model” of e-mail delivery that BlackBerry provides does not require the user to dial-in or initiate the connection, so users receive notification as a new e-mail arrives and can respond immediately.

The appeal for Merrill Lynch is that its employees are highly mobile and require secure, mobile access to their corporate e-mail, contacts, calendar and task list.

Crawford, as an equity analyst, needs to receive time sensitive information such as stock quotes and stock alerts as soon as possible.

“[For example,] I’m away from the phone or it’s not a good time to have a conversation, maybe I’m in a meeting. [With the BlackBerry] I can get a message and it’s the only way it would get to me. I can respond [as] I have my hands down below the table [and by] pressing a couple of buttons, and it’s not a big deal. It’s not like taking a cell phone call and having to get up and going out of the room and walk out,” said Crawford.

Kenneth Bob, senior vice-president with Descartes Systems Group Inc., is also enthusiastic about the efficiency and productivity his company has gained from use of the BlackBerry. Descartes supplies transportation companies with software for order management and route optimization, and wireless communication. Descartes salespeople, consultants and executives not only use the BlackBerry, but the company resells the device to clients as well.

“On the efficiency side it allows us to narrow down the time frame that we get things done … in a company like ours a lot of people are on the road a lot of the time … I know for myself, I find myself just running to get to the next hotel room or next airline lounge to download my e-mail. I’m always a half-a-day or a day behind and with the pager I’m sitting at the airport waiting for a flight or I’m getting off my flight and there’s my pager going off and often it’s just setting things up: it’s transactions, it’s finding out where something is, or who knows about topic. It shortens all the time it takes to get things done,” Bob said.

Bob agrees with Crawford about the potential for the BlackBerry to become “addictive.”

“I think that … you have to be careful that it doesn’t totally take over your life. If you think about it all of sudden you have e-mail access every minute of the day. You have to know when to turn it off…It can be extremely annoying for a spouse or children for the person with the BlackBerry unit to be on all the time,” Bob pointed out.

The BlackBerry Enterprise Server for networks runs on its own server behind the firewall and talks to the Microsoft Exchange server. Enterprise server software uses the MAPI protocol to monitor the inboxes on the Exchange server. When a new message arrives BlackBerry software recognises that message has arrived, takes that message, compresses it and

encrypts it using Triple DES encryption and forwards it to the BlackBerry handheld. The message is encrypted with Triple DES before it ever passes through the firewall, says RIM’s Guibert.

“The net effect is that the server product has been designed specifically for Exchange, so there’s no integration issues for the customer,” Guibert said.

Dave Leonard, systems support specialist with Descartes Systems Group Inc., said the BlackBerry Enterprise Server was “easy to install.” Leonard, a WAN mail administrator, had all the necessary rights ready and the server was installed, and up and running in about 10- to 15- minutes, including rebooting.

“You drop the CD in and it says, ‘Oh, okay, let’s install the BlackBerry Enterprise Server,’…[The only] configuration issues are that you have to have two or three pieces of vital information for the server [such as:]licence numbers, serial numbers, [and] network addresses that you have to send out to. Beyond that the only change we had to make was opening a specific port on our firewall to allow the BlackBerry server to run,” Leonard said.

The desktop package costs $549 and BlackBerry Enterprise Server is $3,999 including 20 client licences. Additional client licences are $69 per seat. Airtime is provided by RIM and costs $49.99 per user per month.