RIM Chief: Spectrum Is Limiting Resource
RIM, known for its line of popular BlackBerry wireless devices, is a veteran in an industry that only recently has gained front-and-center attention among network operators.
"We've been doing this for a long time," said Lazaridis, noting that RIM started writing wireless application programming interfaces (APIs) in 1988.
"In 1988, when you talked about wireless data, most people looked at you with a blank stare," Lazaridis said. "What I didn't expect was that ten years later, they were still looking at you with a blank stare." At last, he said, "we're at the point now where wireless data has really taken over the industry."
Because RIM started dabbling in wireless data back in the days when networks were especially bandwidth-constrained, the company learned how to be efficient, Lazaridis told the crowd.
"The BlackBerry was born on what was effectively a two-way paging environment. So all that data had to fit through a very small pipe."
Since then, carriers all over the world have started supporting BlackBerry devices on their next-generation wireless networks. And while those networks have the capability to support voice, data, and multimedia services, their capacity is limited, Lazaridis said.
"We learned that spectrum is a limited resource," he said. "We worked very closely with the carriers to make sure our solution was respectful of the bandwidth."
There is a difference between unlimited wireless data services and flat-rate wireless data services, Lazaridis explained -- the main difference being that the latter won't bring down a network. RIM makes a point of referring to its services as "flat rate." On the other hand, many carriers offer an "unlimited" wireless data service for laptop computers, although the fine print in their service agreements generally indicates limitations. (See Carriers Restrict 'Unlimited' 3G.)
"We have to be very careful not to confuse flat rate with unlimited use," he said. "What we've realized is that if you use too much of the network bandwidth, you get to the point where carriers aren't making money."
To make his point, Lazaridis compared a month of BlackBerry bandwidth usage with a month of PC card modem usage on a laptop computer.
"BlackBerry is so efficient that 90 percent of our BlackBerry users use less than 2 megabytes per month."
But with a PC card modem on a laptop, "Let's say you listen to three or four video sites per day. That ends up being total per month per user of 1.8 gigs. That would be a reasonable load on a wired connection, but let's look at that on a wireless network."
RIM does not support video streaming on BlackBerry, but Lazaridis said such services are coming eventually, and that the company is designing them with efficiency in mind.
Lazaridis also stressed the importance of wireless network security -- not just over the airwaves, but also on the device and at the server.
"When you talk about wireless communications, security becomes one of the most important aspects of the technology," he said.
"It's not just the security of sending the data wirelessly. Not only do we secure the data in flight, but we secure the ROM on the device. We wanted to make sure that only approved software was on that device."
On a humorous note, Lazaridis also warned of one of the perils the average BlackBerry user faces daily -- namely, that walking and reading email at the same time can lead to bumping into walls. To that end, he showed a short video featuring a product called "The BlackBerry Helmet." Its slogan: "Protect your skull while you destroy your thumbs."
— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading