BlackBerry gets a taste of Wi-Fi

The latest BlackBerry device supports Voice-over-IP and can connect to a Wi-Fi network, although experts are divided over how long it will take such technology to become mainstream

Research In Motion has launched the first Blackberry to offer support for Voice-over IP (VoIP) over an 802.11b-based wireless network

The 7270 BlackBerry, which was demonstrated at the Gartner ITXPO Symposium in the US on Monday, can send and receive voice and data over a wireless network. RIM has also added wireless networking support to its BlackBerry Enterprise Server 4.0 software, which previously supported cellular networks.

The 7270 BlackBerry is due to go on sale in early 2005, with selected customers testing it from next month.

Because the 7270 will support VoIP, enterprises with Wi-Fi networks will be able to deploy it to staff and make them contactable anywhere in the office. This ability to break a worker's tie to his or her desk phone could aid productivity in some workplaces, and assist with hot-desking.

But there are conflicting views about whether voice over Wi-Fi is genuinely close to being adopted by many firms.

Ian Keene, Gartner's vice-president and chief analyst, told the NetEvents conference earlier this month the cost and complexity of Wi-Fi VoIP was too much for most companies to consider. He estimated that it would be another five years before it was a significant percentage of the market.

However, Bob Schiff, general manager for Layer 4-7 and security at Foundry Networks, thinks Wi-Fi VoIP is closer to widespread adoption. He said last week that some sectors had a real need for that level of mobility.

"In hospitals, where doctors and nurses are always on the go, a mobile voice solution makes good sense," said Schiff.

Schiff added that he expected to see some major Wi-Fi VoIP deployments to begin within the next two or three years.

CNET News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report