Research In Motion (RIM) is testing a BlackBerry voice-and-data device which operates on 802.11b Wi-Fi networks, to launch next year. The device, shown at the Gartner ITXPO event in Florida works with a new version of the BlackBerry server to support VoIP telephony.

The BlackBerry 7270 continues RIM's progressive tweaking of what was originally a data-based product to become more voice-friendly (see reviews of the BlackBerry 7230 and BlackBerry 7100). The device contains a SIP client (read our feature on SIP) that works with IP PBXs and corporate phone systems.

Details are short, but it seems the new device does not support cellular data, as the release describes it as for "on-premises workers". There are no delivery dates for the product, which we first heard about nearly a year ago, and was apparently planned for launch last Spring.

RIM hopes ISVs and enterprises will use these devices to deliver workflow and other applications to users moving within an office - in other words it is being pitched into the same space as Symbol's new MC50, but with better built in voice support.

The ability to link to enterprise applications has been increased in version 4.0 of BlackBerry's back-end server, says the company (but see our review of BlackBerry Enterprise Server 3.6 to get an idea of the kind of thing it does). The server integrates with Microsoft Exchange and other programs

The announcement is part of a hyperactive few weeks at RIM, with several new flavours added to its hardware. As well as September's launch of the 7100 smartphone, the company has added the 7290, a Bluetooth version of its smartphone (which should be a major improvement as it will allow the user to see the screen while talking). Away from its own hardware, it has made it easier for other players, including Siemens and Nokia.

Continued innovation in hardware is a double-edged sword for RIM, however. Hardware revenue will make up about 70 percent of RIM's 2005 revenue, according to William Schaff, chief investment officer at Bay Isle Financial, writing in Information Week. "I've rarely seen hardware gross margins rise in recent days," says Schaff . "As its business model moves toward more service agreements with other manufacturers with RIM features, such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson, it's possible that the shift in operating margins to the positive may not fully offset declining margin and potential revenue loss from hardware sales."