Research In Motion opened up its beta offering of BlackBerry Protect, a free service that lets users locate their lost phones and remotely wipe them, to users in North America and parts of Latin America.

The company is a bit behind schedule. When RIM announced the service and a limited beta in July, it said it would broaden the beta at the end of last year.

BlackBerry users who do not connect through a corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Service can sign up to use the service. If they lose their phone, they can launch a map on the BlackBerry Protect portal and see the location of their phone. A user can remotely lock the phone, and display a message on the home screen instructing whoever finds it about how to reach the owner.

A user can also remotely back up the data on the phone, and if it's lost remotely wipe all data stored on the device and on the MicroSD card. If the phone is most likely lost nearby, the user can remotely activate a special loud ring, even if the phone is set to silent mode.

Following a blog post announcing the open beta, a few people wrote about their disappointment that the service is not available to those who connect through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Used by enterprises, the BES allows IT administrators to enforce security policies and perform functions including remote wipe. RIM did not respond before this story was complete to questions about the availability of BlackBerry Protect for BES users.