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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

WiFi BlackBerry - exactly what does it support?

I wrote recently about the new WiFi-enabled device from RIM. Now that the 8820 has been officially announced, I'm trying to get my head around exactly what the deployment scenarios are.

It seems that it does indeed come in both "operator-oriented" and "non-operator/enterprise-owned" variants.

The device's specific website for the UK has this to say about the WiFi functionality, which makes it seem like purely a service provider play:

Data Support
If you have signed up for a qualifying BlackBerry® data plan¹ through your service provider, you can also use your BlackBerry® 8820 smartphone to access your BlackBerry data services over virtually any Wi-Fi network.

Voice Support over UMA/GAN

If your service provider offers UMA/GAN support, you can also take advantage of full voice functionality² over any Wi-Fi network supported by your service provider

OK, so the much-rumoured UMA support is embedded, no particular surprise there. I guess the major use case will be so that employees on T-Mobile US can use the thing at home where coverage is lousy, and also in Starbucks etc. I see from the RIM website it's shipping France too, so I guess there's an Orange Uniq variant as well. The press release mentions AT&T - but unless it's done (another) volte-face it doesn't have a currently announced plan to support UMA.

But the data support option is the more weird one - does this mean that you need to get your carrier's permission before you use it on you own WiFi network? So if I'm sitting in my office, connecting to my exchange server in my basement over my WiFi - or going out over my local ISP connection... I have to pay my operator for the privilege?! Maybe this is what the AT&T reference is about in the press release.

Also still unclear is whether the device is usable by enterprises for non-operator VoWLAN. Can I put a Cisco or Avaya softphone on it and connect directly to my IP-PBX via the Internet, as you can do with a normal Symbian or Windows smartphone? Is there an addressable 'naked' SIP stack? Unfortunately the full specs for the 8820 aren't on RIM's website yet.

It could be that it's only designed for operator-managed dual-mode IP-PBX based solutions using SIP, such as BT's Corporate Fusion offering. I could see AT&T playing in that space as well.

On the other hand.... it's started selling direct via Carphone Warehouse in the UK, which can activate the devices on 3 different operators' networks. Sounds like RIM may be edging slowly to carrier-neutral distribution after all.

1 comment:

Mark Jenkins said...


Here is some belated feedback on the AT&T BlackBerry 8820 and the T-Mobile BlackBerry 8320.

There is no AT&T UMA client in the 8820 that I can find (no surprise). The T-Mobile obviously does have UMA functionality. The T-Mobile BlackBerry does not require any additional services (above basic BlackBerry) in order to use UMA or WiFi data. The much publicized $20 HotSpot@Home plan merely discounts UMA minutes to free, whereas without the plan, minutes still route through UMA, but also count against your bucket of minutes. While there is no extra investment needed, it should still be reinforced that your UMA traffic still routes through T-Mobile's network. This prevents an 8320 from being used for UMA without T-Mobile authentication. Since the authentication takes place between the SIM and T-Mobile’s network, the T-Mobile BlackBerry is able to open its UMA session without the cellular radio being powered up.

To address your questions about WiFi data, both WiFi enabled BlackBerries were able to browse the internet over my home WiFi router with the cellular radios turned off, AND with the SIM cards removed from the phones. This means that RIM has configured the WiFi data to work without the need of carrier authentication. While the T-Mobile UMA functionality may require authentication, I would guess that a third party could put a UMA client on the device and have it work regardless of the cellular carrier.

I spoke with a product manager at Divitas about this very thing, and his response was that they do not have any intention “at this time” to support the BlackBerry platform. I’m not sure if that is a true position, or a stated position until they are a little farther down the development path.

I hope this helps. If you have any third party UMA clients, I’d be happy to test them here in the states for you.