AT&T's New BlackBerry Unlocks GPS

New BlackBerry 8820 includes WiFi and user-friendly GPS mapping.

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The kind folks at AT&T have released their version of the latest BlackBerry device and gussied it up by including WiFi. That allows users to access wireless hotspots for high-speed Web surfing or E-mail.

I call them kind folks, though, because of another feature included in their new BlackBerry: full, unlocked, user-friendly GPS support—unlike Verizon, which locked out the GPS chip in my BlackBerry 8830. I can't use the free BlackBerry Maps application that was included on my Verizon phone, apparently so the company can ready its own service with accompanying fees. It's part of what Jonathan Spinney at the consulting firm maperture calls "authoritarian behavior" that's spurring a national debate over network openness.

AT&T didn't include BlackBerry Maps on its 8820, which is black but otherwise almost identical to my silver 8830 (except for the added WiFi). But AT&T does include a free GPS mapping service and more powerful versions that carry fees. And users are free to download BlackBerry Maps or other GPS services, says AT&T spokesman John Kampfe. Sprint customers, by the way, enjoy the same luxury.

Kampfe warns that other applications aren't tested by AT&T. That means they could raise privacy concerns if they also track a user, or could be inefficient in using AT&T's data network. So, buyer beware. But at least with AT&T, you're free to be a buyer.