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Carrier WiFi

Balsillie: WiFi & FMC 'Imminent'

BOSTON -- JP Morgan Techology Conference -- BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie says the mobile device maker and service provider will be moving rapidly into the Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) market, especially in the enterprise space, and that the technology could show up in the market as early as this year.

Speaking here today at a lunch keynote, Balsillie said RIM plans to add WiFi soon -- possibly by the end of the year. And once WiFi is added to the devices, he sees RIM and its service provider partners making a quick leap toward tying together fixed and mobile communications services with one device -- the goal in the industry known as FMC.

"If you throw WiFi in our products... that's imminent... and you have a service that does the handoff, it's something that can be interesting in the latter half of this year," he said.

Balsillie was responding to a member of the audience who asked if he thought that RIM could replace the fixed phone in the enterprise office. His answer appeared to be a "yes."

"Most of the carriers are supportive of FMC," said Balsillie. "Seventy-five percent of calls to the PBX go to voicemail, so if you can send those calls to a mobile phone, you could [double] the number of calls."

Balsillie added that in the beginning he thought that WiFi was overhyped, because people thought it would replace traditional mobile data services. He says that it's mostly complementary to other services, and that BlackBerries could be used to tie these services together by adding WiFi capability.

The RIM co-CEO's speech focused on how RIM is partnering with all sorts of carriers to plunge deeper into new markets including consumer media, enterprise applications, and FMC. He sees RIM's move into all of these markets as an über-plan to tie together applications into one super-device that can roam anywhere and do anything. (See RIM's Corporate Call)

In fact, Balsillie didn't appear to leave any market unturned. He said the new BlackBerry products for the consumer market -- such as Curve -- were doing well, and that company plans to add more media features, which will be enabled by cheaper memory. (See RIM Curves It Around.)

When asked what he though of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s entrance into the phone market, Balsillie said it served to "confirm" that people want a converged device, but he asked whether it's easier to put an MP3 player into a communication device or put a communication device into an MP3 player.

— R. Scott Raynovich, Converged Editor, Light Reading

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