ThoughtPiece: Do we really need Wi-Fi on a BlackBerry?

Oh boy. Thought’s really looking to stir it up in his latest editorial. While many AT&T users are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the BlackBerry 8820 (Orange users, you can offer a smug smile right about now), our man Thought dares to ask the question: do we even need a Wi-Fi BlackBerry? This one is sure to create a lot of debate, so make sure to post a comment and let us know what you think.

BlackBerry 8820With the upcoming release of the new 8820 model we finally will have Wi-Fi on a BlackBerry. I have to admit that I am excited about this and look forward to seeing all of the developments as RIM is rumored to be ready to feature Wi-Fi on more of its upcoming BlackBerry models.

However, I also ask myself if such a feature is really that useful on a BlackBerry. For sending and receiving emails, the bread and butter of the BlackBerry, it is not needed. According to Vodafone, the average email in English with 250 words is approximately 4KB in size. Do we need to download 4KB emails or 40KB emails or even 400KB emails on a connection that can support up to 54 Mbps?

The web browser on a BlackBerry is suited more for the mobile versions of web sites which emphasize text content. It’s not as if one can go to a media-rich site with Flash or QuickTime on your mobile browser and enjoy those features, no matter what the connection speed.

To its credit, the BlackBerry is a device optimized for smaller bandwidth and thus in many cases a user doesn’t need the broadband pipeline offered by Wi-Fi.

One of the most intriguing applications of Wi-Fi is the prospect of using the internet for voice phone calls and thus avoiding the traditional airtime and long distance charges. Such applications for the BlackBerry are just being rolled out, but I wonder, though, if most users will really want to bother with the setup for that type of software and service. The one promising integration of this feature looks to be UMA, and is only offered right now in the US by T-Mobile. Ironically, this first Wi-Fi BlackBerry is being introduced by AT&T. Go figure.

Then there is the issue of 3G. Once RIM comes out with 3G BlackBerrys, will anyone care about Wi-Fi? 3G is more ubiquitous than Wi-Fi in many areas; you don’t have to hunt down a hotspot and many of those require an additional fee to use. 3G is not as fast as Wi-Fi, but is certainly more than adequate for what the BlackBerry does.

Finally, there is the security issue. Hopping onto many public Wi-Fi networks poses something of a security risk, and many BlackBerry users will not want to take that risk. Of course corporations can always set up their own secure internal Wi-Fi network and that may have utility for some. I have to believe, though, that most BlackBerry users are too mobile to take advantage of Wi-Fi networks at their corporate office.

Admittedly, there is potential: with the Wi-Fi feature implemented, developers may come up with some dynamic applications that utilize the power of a Wi-Fi connection on a BlackBerry.

With technology, features usually fall into one of two categories. There are those features that are genuinely useful to a majority of users. Then there are those features that look good on paper, seem like they would be neat to have, but end up not being that useful after all. I wonder if Wi-Fi on a BlackBerry will end up being in the first or the second category. Perhaps you, our thoughtful readers, can weigh in and tell us for what purpose would you use Wi-Fi on your BlackBerry.

Comments [18 Responses]

July 26th, 2007 at 10:13 am

I think this is only a question in markets that have unlimited data plans. In Canada, WiFi is an absolute necessity. Ironically (or is it coincidently?), the Canadian carriers will never offer a WiFi enabled device, and remove WiFi from devices they do offer. This is why the iPhone and the 8820 will never appear on Canadian shelves. I guarantee it.

July 26th, 2007 at 10:49 am

I see this as a win in 2 scenarios, both applying to myself:
1) Traveling overseas; even when signed up for Tmobile’s $20 international email plan, data usage overseas can get pricey. If I want to check something online, even if it’s just to see how sports teams are doing, those roaming Kb’s add up quickly. Instead, connect to a hotspot and surf till my heart’s content.

2) If you’re asking for possible wifi usage, you obviously don’t have tmobile. Our building penetration is so awful I don’t even care about paying $10 for an unlimited pool of minutes, I just want to be able to use wifi to boost my reception. Again, if you had tmobile you would understand…

July 26th, 2007 at 11:13 am

Dan you are dead wrong about them crippling wifi devices. Take the HTC products rogers is currently selling as well as the HPs that they have been selling for years. The 8820 will be carried by rogers and same with the iphone (once all the legal junk is sorted out).

BBCool Douglas
July 26th, 2007 at 11:34 am


I agree with nsimpson that the BlackBerry 8820 will come out on Rogers. While they have crippled Wi-Fi in the past, there’s just too much pressure from manufacturers now, and iPhone changes the playing field somewhat.

Also, people at RIM have told me that Rogers became more receptive to Wi-Fi once they decided to charge people for “access” regardless of whether it was on their network or via Wi-Fi. Bleh.

July 26th, 2007 at 5:58 pm

I think this is absolutely a wonderfull idea. My company is a utility and need to build power substations and power lines out in the middle of the desert. There is no cell service anywhere, and sometimes whole communities are build before cell towers are built. If we layer every building with WiFi (which is being done anyway), we can reach a lot more of our users.

I think someone mentioned international before too- want to make a free call? Find a WiFi point!

Finally, the perfect example is my house. I can send and recieve calls great at my house… upstairs. I cant do anything downstairs. With the 8820, I’ll be able to send/recive with no issues at my house. Sure you can try and blackmail carriers into giving you a IPBTS unit, but this is *way* cheaper.

July 27th, 2007 at 1:43 am

I’m interested to learn more about this concept of charging for access even if you are hooked up on wifi, kinda brings you down, don’t it?

Neil Thompson
July 27th, 2007 at 10:21 am

Wifi is required for those businesses who want to run corporate applications from their own wireless network - for example in a hospital. When coupled with a service that detects a change in network and chooses the best for the situation this is a very compelling offering.

We know companies that have been waiting years for this to be introduced by RIM, so we are glad to finally see it here.

ThoughtPiece: The Software Determines Success | BlackBerry Cool
August 1st, 2007 at 9:52 am

[...] it probably won’t spark as much debate as his previous article, our main man Thought comes back swinging this week with a topic that is [...]

August 5th, 2007 at 5:17 am

Having recently switched from a pocket pc to a 3g blacberry I do miss wi fi but have to say the bb does exactly whjat it says.on the tin and does it really well. I can live without wi fi to have a devic ethat does what it does so well

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