Can VoIP Save Blackberry?

Word emanating from Waterloo, Onatario, Canada is that the new BlackBerry 10 platform will support VoIP. Over the past couple of days, a flood of both formal statements and leaks indicate that a slew of developers have jumped at the opportunity to build BlackBerry 10 versions of their VoIP applications, either for their own VoIP services or to provide to VoIP carriers who prefer not to devote their resources to basic applications development.

For the tekkies among us, myself included, the development is indeed exciting. But for the business analysts amongst us, myself included, the jury is still out.

It’s no secret that the former Research In Motion (RIM), which has just taken on the name of its premiere product line as its corporate name and renamed itself BlackBerry, is in trouble, its survival hardly assured. Once the absolute leader in smartphones, these days it’s been totally eclipsed by both Apple and Android-based offerings, with Microsoft’s Windows nipping at BlackBerry’s heels. Some really good analysts I’ve been reading are even suggesting that Android will soon displace Apple, with Windows Phone to also pass both BlackBery and Apple, with BlackBerry relegated to last place.

Given that scenario, BlackBerry’s best chance at survival is to take a gamble, and part of that gamble is on VoIP. To that end, BlackBerry has now validated PJSIP, which is an open source embedded SIP protocol stack written in C. In short, PJSIP is a way to port a VoIP application to various platforms, and a couple of weeks ago the developer community behind PJSIP (see www.pjsip.org) released instructions on how to port to BlackBerry 10. The task can be done in a phenomenally short 10 minutes. After that, it’s up to the developer to tinker with his application to make it work properly on PJSIP running on the BlackBerry 10 platform. From what I’ve been reading, the task is not difficult.

The result may be that the new BlackBerry 10-based phones, which to no surprise support Long Term Evolution (LTE), are the first that will soon work as VoIP phones over just about anybody’s VoIP service. Will that be enough to save BlackBerry? Or will the leader get another arrow in its back? Only time, and the marketplace, will tell.

So what does that mean to users of a VoIP provider such as Phone.com?

That’s an obvious answer. It means that in the near future the BlackBerry 10 phones will be, as I’ve been predicting for a long time, usable as VoIP extensions on a company’s virtual PBX. In other words, the conversations will flow over wireless data channels, rather than over current cellular voice channels, and the VoIP calls will be both incoming and outgoing. Indeed a very small business might even use a cell phone as its main business phone.

Meanwhile, as we wait for this to happen, I should note that Phone.com users can easily set up any wireless or landline phone, or a PC, anywhere in the world, as an incoming extension to their virtual switchboard. (The PC can also be an outgoing VoIP extension, using Phone.com’s Communicator software http://phone.com/features/communicator.php.)

Finally, while BlackBerry may be the first to open up its platform to VoIP developers, the way industry works there’s little doubt that others will play follow the leader. While there are some VoIP kluges for Android, I think it’s inevitable that Google won’t let BlackBerry get ahead on this one. And the folks at Microsoft and Apple aren’t dumb or the companies wouldn’t be where they are … they’re sure to follow suit once they realize they’re losing business by not supporting VoIP.