Earlier this week, Research In Motion (RIM) announced its new BlackBerry 8820 smartphone, which the company says is the first BlackBerry that can “seamlessly switch between cellular networks and a Wi-Fi network.”
In other words, users can be on voice calls via cellular networks when they arrive at the office and then switch to the corporate Wi-Fi network without a hitch, according to RIM. The device is expected to become available on AT&T’s network some time this summer.
“The BlackBerry 8820 complements our carrier partners’ cellular networks with the added ability to stay connected via Wi-Fi at home, through hotspots and corporate campuses,” said Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO at RIM, in a press release.
Last month, I wrote about a new study from In-Stat, a technology market research firm that concluded the demand for such “dual-mode” Wi-Fi/cellular phones is on the rise, and I asked readers to comment on their awareness of these phones and whether or not they thought the devices provided any specific value to enterprises. I didn’t get much of a response. And I wasn’t too surprised, either. After all, there currently aren’t many mobile phones out there with this “dual-mode” functionality and there are fewer still that can seamlessly switch between a cellular network and Wi-Fi.
With RIM’s introduction of the BlackBerry 8820, enterprises will surely start taking note of dual-mode mobile phones, and many will begin deploying them across their enterprises in the coming months. When RIM makes a move, other device manufacturers notice, and you’ll likely see many more mobile phones with the ability to switch between cellular networks and Wi-Fi in the near future.
According to In-Stat, the most significant benefits to enterprises of dual-mode mobile phones are the potential cost-savings and increased control over corporate phones. For instance, instead of racking up charges from carriers for use of their cellular networks, users can simply choose to switch to Wi-Fi whenever it’s available. Wi-Fi networks often aren’t free outside of corporate or home settings, so fees for usage of external networks will still apply in some cases; however, the money that could be saved while in the office or at home makes dual-mode phones worth some investigation. In-Stat also noted that such phones give businesses more control over what their users are doing with their corporate phones while in the office.
“These [voice-over-Wi-Fi] phones let them get control back when users are in the building, and they save money on cellular charges since most calls are made in the building [using the corporate network],” said Allen Nogee, In-Stat’s principal analyst, wireless technology and infrastructure.
The BlackBerry 8820 supports the 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi standards to enable data access over Wi-Fi connections. To address the security concerns associated with using Wi-Fi for voice or data transmissions, the BlackBerry 8820 is compliant with various Wi-Fi security protocols, including the Wireless Equivalency Protocol (WEP), Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and WPA2. Enterprises that employ wireless solutions from Cisco can also use Cisco Compatible Extensions to help secure connections, according to RIM. VPNs can be accessed via Wi-Fi with the IPSec-based software included with the BlackBerry 8820, which supports many common VPN gateways from companies like Cisco and Check Point, according to RIM.
The 8820 is RIM’s latest handheld from its 8800 series of BlackBerrys, and it looks just like its 8800 siblings. It includes all the features found on the most of the other 8800 series phones, including GPS, which isn’t available on the BlackBerry 8830 from Verizon.
The device is not the first BlackBerry to include Wi-Fi functionality—the BlackBerry 7270 supports Wi-Fi.
In related news, T-Mobile recently announced its HotSpot @Home service, which lets users switch between cellular networks and their home Wi-Fi network, using the Samsung t409 or Nokia 6086 mobile phones.
Additional information on the BlackBerry 8820 can be located on RIM’s website.