Representatives from Research in Motion Ltd. and Rogers Wireless Inc. were in Ottawa last week extolling the benefits of the BlackBerry device as more than just a simple mobile email solution at a breakfast seminar on the benefits of wireless data and the BlackBerry. Introduced in 1999, the wireless handheld was popularized by on-the-go professionals needing to stay in touch with their corporate email. BlackBerry subscribers now top 2.5 million, with RIM surpassing the 2-million mark less than a year after reaching 1 million subscribers.  More than simple access to corporate email, the device allows enterprises to improve employee productivity by extending backend applications out to the BlackBerry. Enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management software are only two such applications that companies are interested in extending beyond the corporate wired network.  Darren Entright, an account manager for Rogers Wireless, says email and connectivity to corporate networks are two of the most important applications for businesses, but he says interest in productivity-enhancing applications is on the rise. "Other areas of interest that we’re seeing are in the areas of field service automation, sales force automation, and asset tracking and logistics – the ability to track your assets whether it be a vehicle or other large asset," he says.  Mike Hough, a RIM account manager, says the BlackBerry shouldn’t be considered a simple mobile email solution because the device can offer more than that. He adds that RIM has already developed a number of these applications for the marketplace, though he’s unable to divulge details. "(Companies that develop these applications) want to keep it as a competitive advantage within their organization or corporation. So we know about it, but we just can’t publicly come out and talk about them. There are a lot of applications out there working on BlackBerries today, it’s just that they aren’t marketed because most of them have been developed internally at the organizations," he says.  Hospitals are beginning to show greater interest in using mobile wireless devices to improve operations such as patient care response times. Tests on the impact of wireless signals on hospital equipment in the Greater Toronto Area have shown that there is actually little negative impact by wireless signals on hospital equipment. BlackBerries are now being used in some hospitals as a communication medium while doctors and nurses are conducting rounds, for example.  Entright says there has been significant uptake in the financial services sector, government, insurance and real estate industries, adding that the smaller companies have begun to adopt the BlackBerry. "There’s been a huge uptake in the general business market, small- and medium-sized businesses looking for ways of streamlining (operations) like the work order process, so they can fill their customers’ (orders) quicker," he says.  Newer devices, newer applications RIM’s forthcoming Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerry 7270 won’t be targeted at the busy executive or professional, but will focus on the campus user. The device, unveiled last fall at the Gartner ITXPO Symposium, will be the first to support Voice over IP and wireless local area network capabilities as well as traditional cellular-type networks. The 7270 is still in beta testing and no commercial launch date has yet been set.  A hospital setting is a prime example of where the Wi-Fi BlackBerry will work best. By assigning a single BlackBerry to all the anesthesiologists, for example, a simple email could be sent out as an alert when one was needed. As well, the device would give doctors and nurses the ability to download patient files.  To help with future applications development, RIM has introduced MDS (mobile data service), a tool which partners can use to help develop applications for their specific needs. Rogers’ Enright says this isn’t an application development platform, but more of a conduit that provides access to third-party applications.  "We give the tools for them to develop applications," Hough tells Report on Wireless. Key for this application development relationship to work is the collaboration of both companies. "We’re both involved. We both have to be involved with this because they have the bandwidth and they understand the network where we try and give the customers the ability to develop those applications, and we can guide them to develop them," he says.