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RIM: Carriers want users on Wi-Fi

New feature to allow calls over company PBX via Wi-Fi will bypass carrier networks who will welcome it, says Research in Motion.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

ORLANDO, FLORIDA--The ability to route calls over Wi-Fi to the company PBX (private branch exchange) on BlackBerry phones will not alienate carrier partners, but be a welcome feature for the latter, says Research in Motion (RIM).

The new platform, called BlackBerry Mobile Voice System (MVS) 5, was announced Monday in a press briefing at the WES 2010 show. One of the highlighted features is the ability to allow users to make calls over their company PBX systems via any Wi-Fi network. Prior to this update, the phones were able to perform this function only over 3G.

This allows BlackBerrys to bypass a carrier's data network, and also costly roaming services whether it be voice or data, by connecting a user directly to the company's PBX. This is so long as there is a Wi-Fi network available.

Alan Brenner, senior vice president for the BlackBerry platform, said this move will not alienate carriers.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Brenner emphasized the phone maker's relationship with operators: "We do all of our business through carriers."

The cost savings from the new feature, he said, will present another reason for companies to get BlackBerrys, resulting in more business for carriers.

Wi-Fi offloading has also become an increasing aspect that carriers are looking into, as their networks feel the load strain of data-hungry smartphone users, Brenner added.

"Carriers will benefit from offloading of their networks to corporate networks. Call quality is also clearer over Wi-Fi," he said.

The update will be available to users mid this year.

Native apps more compelling
Irvin Nio, U.K.-based infrastructure architect with CapGemini, said his company is looking into enabling native access to its internal enterprise apps on BlackBerry phones. However, he added that the development tools available to his staff are behind in comparison to what is available for other platforms such as Windows Mobile.

Nio, who spoke to ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the WES conference, said his users are asking for BlackBerry devices, but he is still "looking into how to make BlackBerrys more than just e-mail devices".

With native support for the company's ERP (enterprise resource planning) system available on other mobile platforms, Nio's team needs to get its BlackBerry support to catch up, he said.

Push e-mail--once synonymous with BlackBerrys--is now "commoditized" and available on other mobile platforms, so tight enterprise app integration is the next differentiator, he said.

Brenner said RIM offers developers three ways to make apps for BlackBerrys. Java apps are native and able to tap the phone's native functions through APIs, allowing the most control for developers, he said. Web-based apps are allowed, although these are not permitted to access APIs and are therefore more limited in function.

The third app type is the widget, which is based on Web apps, but which have some APIs available and can call up native device functions, he said.

Brenner said a number of RIM's customers have built BlackBerry apps for their SAP ERP systems, but these are Web-based. He could not say for certain if any have built native Java ERP apps, though these tools are available to developers.

Victoria Ho of ZDNet Asia reported from the WES 2010 show in Orlando, Florida.

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