VOICECON: RIM unveils Wi-Fi BlackBerry at VoiceCon 2005

Research In Motion Ltd. has unveiled initiatives with two major equipment providers through which it will offer corporate customers Wi-Fi-equipped BlackBerry handhelds that connect to corporate voice switches through wireless LANs.

At this week’s VoiceCon 2005 event in Orlando, Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM said its new BlackBerry 7270 offers users secure access to IP telephony features, corporate e-mail and other capabilities. The new device, still in beta-testing, was demonstrated Tuesday at booths for both Nortel Networks Ltd. and 3Com Corp. Both companies have Session-Initiation-Protocol-compliant switches and servers that can provide access to corporate data and voice, as well as external voice networks.

Among those at VoiceCon who sought out information on the BlackBerry 7270 were three employees of a major hotel chain. They said a device equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities would be a real help to workers at a hotel site who need to share information about guests, logistics or other topics. They declined to give their names.

About 2 million BlackBerry devices are currently in use, but they work over wireless WAN connections. The 7270 is aimed at users in manufacturing facilities, hospitals, retail stores and hotels, said RIM’s vice president of marketing, Don McMurtry.

McMurtry and Nortel officials said in a news conference that their partnership would be the first of others. Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said the 7270 and its connection to the switches of Nortel and 3Com is “exciting.” But, he added, “the long-term benefit will come when you can marry it with cellular service.” McMurtry would not discuss whether RIM is pursuing development of a device with dual cellular and Wi-Fi technology, although analysts said such a move is likely.

The new BlackBerry integrates with Nortel’s Multimedia Communications Server 5100 and with 3Com’s Internet Protocol Private Branch Exchange and WLAN switch and the 3Com Convergence Application Suite of software.

The RIM announcement was one of about 30 that companies plan to make at VoiceCon regarding new products or services. About 4,000 people are attending the show; most of them are network managers at corporations or have similar job titles, VoiceCon officials said.

In one of the show’s announcements, Avaya Inc. unveiled a managed voice-over-IP service called Avaya Remote Managed Services for IP Telephony. The service monitors converged data and voice networks by constantly measuring capacity, performance and other indicators. It can also seek out the root cause of problems, such as high latency over a network connection, Avaya officials said.

Customers can choose from three tiers of service and will be charged a monthly fee, starting at US$1 per network device per month, said Jorge Blanco, Avaya’s vice president of marketing.

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