RIM co-CEO sees 2.5G opportunities for BlackBerry

TORONTO — Research in Motion (RIM) co-CEO Jim Balsillie espoused the benefits of 2.5G and Java at a Speakers’ Forum engagement Tuesday, but one analyst sees only short gains before the advent of 3G.

RIM is now shipping GPRS (general packet radio service) products to Europe with similar products to arrive in North America shortly, said Balsillie. Since GPRS is packet-based (over a GSM network, such as that provided by Rogers AT&T and Microcell), more features will be available on RIM’s BlackBerry paging devices and the value proposition increases for the carriers, he said.

“When the carriers get in on this application space, it changes their economics. This is a major enabler for the carriers. The carriers are going to have a seriously important role to play in the IT world and engineered applications world,” Balsillie said. In essence, carriers will be able to provide more services to both corporate and consumer customers.

“It (2.5G) is a reality, 3G is a fair ways out. It (2.5G) turns on the ability to do data in wireless globally. We’re experiencing this disruption now,” he said. Moreover, Balsillie estimates 90 to 95 per cent of what corporate customers are looking for in mobile computing will be available through 2.5G. “All the enabling that we’re going to see in the world for a long, long time is going to be put before us in the next three (to) nine months, depending on where you are geographically.”

But according to Peter Glaskowsky, senior editor of the Microprocessor Report for the Cahners In-Stat Group, 2.5G may not be the mobile panacea that corporate users are hoping for, and it is only an incremental improvement over its predecessor 2G. ” It’s still not really entirely appropriate with pagers. They’re still better off using their distinct standards for that,” he said.

The next big push for mobile devices and cell phones is built-in Java, through Sun Microsystems’ J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition). The Java Virtual Machine will allow more for options on BlackBerry and other portal devices, he said, since it is able to provision applications over the air and is OS-agnostic.

Glaskowsky doubts the viability of J2ME in the corporate space, since mobile devices still only allow for relatively small chunks of data. It makes more sense to have a server complete any data processing first rather than pushing it all out to a client.

Glaskowsky may have doubts about the usefulness of Java and 2.5G for corporate mobile applications, but failings in those technologies may keep RIM a step ahead of the competition a few years longer, he said. When 3G finally comes to fruition, then RIM may have to watch its back.

Because of 3G, “eventually we’re going to see a merger of the technologies underlying cell phones and pagers,” he said. “(RIM is) going to have to decide whether or not they’re going to become a cell phone company, and if they do, of course, they’ll be just like everyone else.”

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