BlackBerry Development : The Connected BlackBerry - Service Books

9/27/2012 2:02:47 AM

1. Data-Connected Devices

An unconnected BlackBerry smartphone has interesting and useful features, but it is not using its full potential. You can maintain your calendar, to-do lists and address book, take notes, and, with the appropriate calling plan, make and receive phone calls. You can play games and install third-party applications on the device. You would be, however, limited to applications that don’t rely on a connection to an external server for its data. You could send and receive Short Message Service (SMS) messages, because SMS makes its connection through a channel on the voice network instead of the data network. If you installed the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software package, you could synchronize your Personal Information Management (PIM) data (calendar, to-do, address book, and note data) with one or more Personal Information Management (PIM) applications on your Windows-based or Apple PC.

You would certainly receive benefits from its capabilities, but you’d be challenged by your need to physically connect (via USB cable or Bluetooth) with a PC to make the data available somewhere else besides on your smartphone.

The difference between a phone and a smartphone is the applications the phone runs. Modern mobile phones include applications; the difference is the complexity of the applications and the type of user for which the applications are designed. Smartphones typically include a host of personal productivity applications that make the mobile user’s life easier. Along with those smartphone capabilities, and the true reason why people purchase smartphones, is the benefit the mobile user receives from the connectivity that comes with the smartphone and its corresponding data plan. People purchase smartphones because of their application capability, but that capability is enhanced dramatically through the connection the smartphone has to data residing somewhere else.

With a data plan enabled smartphone, not only can a mobile user do all the things he can do with an unconnected smartphone, he can also use other features that enhance the value of the device. Data-connected BlackBerry smartphones can

  • Wirelessly send and receive email messages.

  • Wirelessly synchronize calendar, to-do lists, notes, address book data, and more (enterprise-activated devices only).

  • Browse the Internet or even the company Intranet.

  • Receive application data pushed from a server.

  • Install applications by downloading them from a server or receive applications pushed to them from the server.

  • Wirelessly upgrade the BlackBerry device software running on the device (provided that the carrier supports it and the device is running a supported version of the BlackBerry Device Software).

  • Use Location Based Services (LBS) to access information, services, and coupons relevant to where the mobile user is currently located and provide turn by turn directions to a destination.

  • Synchronize data with an external database/database server (through the BlackBerry Synchronization Service and Sync Server SDK).

And much, much more—this is in no way a complete list.

2. Connecting Through the Firewall

On a typical smartphone, the mobile user can use Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) to access network resources from the browser or a custom application. If the data the device needs to access is located behind a corporate firewall, the organization’s network administrators must open the firewall ports to provide access to the data from mobile devices. It’s important to understand that there are risks involved when opening firewall ports to enable users to access data normally only available to resources located inside the firewall.

On the other hand, the BlackBerry has the same connectivity typical smartphones have, plus additional ones provided by the BlackBerry Infrastructure.[1] BlackBerry devices activated in an enterprise have access to internal (inside the firewall) resources without the need to open up additional firewall ports. 

[1] The BlackBerry Infrastructure consists of special software running in the RIM Network Operations Center (NOC), plus network connections and the necessary service agreements with each Wireless Carrier that supports the BlackBerry platform.

Although a developer could use an Internet connection to provide BlackBerry smartphones with access to data, the security and performance issues inherent in that option make it a dangerous choice. If the data the user needs to access resides inside the corporate firewall, opening firewall ports to enable the mobile user with access only opens up another area for hackers. When a government agency, a medical organization governed by HIPAA (U.S. Government Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) or an organization that processes credit cards for Visa or MasterCard opens up a firewall port, it has to have a good reason for doing so.

3. Service Books

Before we talk about the available connections, it’s important to understand how those connections are configured on the BlackBerry. Many of the connectivity options available to BlackBerry devices are controlled by Service Books. Service Books tell the BlackBerry what connectivity options are available and how to reach the appropriate gateway servicing that connection. When a wireless carrier provisions a BlackBerry smartphone with a data plan or when a BlackBerry activates against a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the required Service Books are delivered to the device, thereby enabling connectivity through the connections described in the Service Book. Each carrier can configure its Service Books in different ways, and Enterprise BlackBerry administrators can control what connections are or are not allowed, even to the point of being able to disable something that the carrier has enabled.

Figure 1 shows an example of a BlackBerry Service Book from a BlackBerry Bold smartphone running on the AT&T wireless network. It describes the settings for WAP connections . The gateway is provided by the Wireless Carrier (WAP 2.0, in this case). If the Service Book were missing, the device would be unable to connect via WAP 2.0.

Figure 1. WAP Service Book entry

Figure 2 shows the MDS Service Book. This Service Book is provisioned by the BES during enterprise activation. If the Service Book were not on the device, the mobile user would not be able to communicate through MDS to internal resources.

Figure 2. Desktop MDS Service Book

The default applications on the BlackBerry smartphone (such as the browser and email client) are already coded to look for the appropriate Service Book before attempting an activity enabled by a Service Book. When building Java applications for the BlackBerry platform, in most cases, the developer must first determine if the appropriate Service Book is available before attempting a connection. RIM includes an application programming interface (API) that developers can use to easily locate a particular Service Book and retrieve configuration values from within an application (net.rim.device.api.servicebook). 

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