Now that Research In Motion has begun shipping its BlackBerry 7270 Wireless Handheld, the company might pose some competition to SpectraLink in the third-party wireless LAN VoIP handset department.

Basically, RIM has created a version of its popular handheld that swaps out the carrier (cellular) radio and replaces it with an 802.11b radio for use on the corporate WLAN by local mobile users. The device extends desktop VoIP phone functionality to a BlackBerry, which otherwise works the way a typical BlackBerry works.

The device currently integrates with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) based IP PBX equipment from Nortel, 3Com and Cisco, and is in trials with Avaya equipment, according to RIM director of WLAN solutions Eric Ritter, who discussed the product during a session at the recent Interop trade show in Las Vegas.

RIM carries more apps, Spectralink doesn't
RIM appears to be embarking on further integration work with the IP PBX vendors to push their specific calling features and capabilities to the 802.11 VoIP handsets, something SpectraLink has also done. However, the BlackBerry also extends enterprise applications to wireless users via the Mobile Data Service feature in BlackBerry Enterprise Server 4.0, while SpectraLink devices are dedicated to voice applications only.

Spectralink does WPA2 security - and QoS
On the other hand, SpectraLink announced at Interop that its own handsets support Wi-Fi Protected Access-2 (WPA2) and Wireless Multimedia (WMM), industry-standard 802.11 extensions for security and QoS, respectively. The announcement makes SpectraLink perhaps the first company to squeeze support for
WPA2 onto any type of 802.11 handheld device.

This is a big stride in closing the Wi-Fi security gap; basically, 802.11 phones, scanners, and other small devices have been the "weak link" in the Wi-Fi security chain, in that they haven't been able to support the heftier security mechanisms that client cards and access points are gaining.

The BlackBerry 7270, for example, supports 64- and 128-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), an older Wi-Fi security standard with known vulnerabilities.

Ritter said during his Interop presentation that the company is testing several wireless flavors of the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), which fall under the IEEE 802.1X authentication framework, for use with the devices. He also said the 7270, which lists for $499, is about 18 months away from becoming a dual-network device, containing both cellular and Wi-Fi connections.