Monday, October 1, 2007

WiFi comes to the Blackberry


By James Booth

I confess, I'm really not much of a Blackberry guy. The proprietary operating system and shortage of third-party applications are not to my liking. I do like the mini-trackball though. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that up until now, Blackberries did not have WiFi access.

With the release of the Blackberry 8820, AT&T has introduced the first WiFi enabled Blackberry. For nigh on a decade, Palm and Pocket PC users have enjoyed WiFi access. Finally, Blackberry users can join the party. See Figure A.


AT&T's new WiFi-enabled Blackberry 8820. (click for larger image)

This article is not going to be a full review of the Blackberry 8820, like some of my other mobile reviews. I'm not going to pretend to be even remotely acquainted with how the Blackberry OS works. Instead, this article will focus on the WiFi aspect of the device.

I have to make another confession... I misunderstood the press release for the 8820 when it came out. I had just wrapped up coverage of T-Mobile's Hotspot\@Home and thought AT&T was getting on the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) Internet calling bandwagon. I was mistaken.

As of right now, AT&T does not offer VoIP calling. The WiFi availability of the Blackberry 8820 is for Internet data use only.

The basics

Setting up WiFi access on the Blackberry is pretty easy; it basically walks you through the process. If you've ever had to set up WiFi access before, like on a laptop, you should have no problem.

The setup routine will scan for any available WiFi signals, like in Figure B, allowing you to connect.


The Blackberry 8820 will scan for available WiFi signals. (click for larger image)

If any passwords or security keys are needed, you'll be prompted for them. A business or enterprise network may require these, and you should be using them on your home network. But I've never encountered them at any free hotspots like hospitals or coffee shops.

Your signal strength and transfer rate is, of course, going to depend on the source of the hotspot you're using, like in Figure C.


Signal strength and quality depends on the source. (click for larger image)

I had no problems or complaints with the transfer speeds I experienced on the 8820. They were a bit faster then the GPRS connection on my AT&T 8525 (I don't have 3G coverage yet), but not quite as fast as my laptop via WiFi.

So what's the verdict? Well, it's kind of hard to get excited about simple WiFi access; as I said, I've had that via my Palm and Pocket PC devices for almost as long as I've been using handhelds. It's just not that big of a deal to me.

If you're already a Blackberry user though, and you're often in the position of being able to take advantage of a WiFi hotspot, then you may want to consider an upgrade to AT&T's Blackberry 8820. I wouldn't recommend it for Palm or Pocket PC users, but if asked to rate it as an upgrade for current Blackberry users, I'd give it 3 out of 5. I just wish AT&T would implement VoIP.