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The History of RIM & the BlackBerry Smartphone, Part 1: The Origins

I always felt that RIM does not have a good history of their company available for fanboys like us to read. They offer bits and pieces here and there, but nothing thorough. Even Wikipedia is a bit lacking in this regard even though much of this information is available to the public. I have managed to get some great details on the origins of RIM and our favorite smartphone (from RIM) and thought I would turn it into a article. Let me know if I miss anything!

Note: Some of the stuff really stumped me. For example, did you know that the RIM [email protected] 900 pager was released years before the RIM 850? I used to think that the 850 was the first!


  • In 1984, RIM was founded by Mike Lazaridis, now president and co-CEO along with Douglas Fregin, Vice President of Operations.
    • Commentary: I’d always assumed that Jim Balsillie was there from the beginning, but he only joined in 1992. We all know Mike, but this article in Canadian Business from 2005 does a great job of detailing some information about Douglas a.k.a. “The Other RIM Guy.” His net worth is estimated at $1.4 Billion (by Forbes), so he is doing alright…


  • RIM was the second developer in the world to develop products for the Mobitex wireless network.
    • Commentary: This is the original network that the first RIM pager BlackBerrys worked on.

rimdigisync 1990

  • RIM came to market with the DigiSync Film KeyKode Reader.
    • Commentary: The company is now considered to be “formerly RIM.” (link) From what I have been able to read up on DigiSync, film barcode readers read the machine-readable barcode edge numbers on motion picture film. (link)
    • RIM won an Emmy and an Oscar for the DigiSync


  • RIM introduced the first Mobitex protocol converter (MPC).


  • RIM introduced the first Mobitex point-of-sale solution.
    • Commentary: This made regular point of sale equipment wireless.


  • RIM introduced RIMGate, the first general-purpose Mobitex X.25 gateway.
    • Commentary: Never heard of this one. I am guessing it is one of the first RIM wireless modems…
  • RIM launched Ericsson Mobidem AT and Intel Wireless Modem containing RIM modem firmware.


  • RIM introduced the first Mobitex mobile point-of-sale terminal (MPT).
    • rim_freedom_pcmciaCommentary: Instead of enabling other terminals with wireless technology, RIM created their own.


  • RIM introduced Freedom, the first Type II PCMCIA radio modem for Mobitex.
    • Commentary: You can only imagine how slow this had to be…

RIM_900_inter@ctive 1996

  • RIM introduced the [email protected] Pager (a.k.a. RIM 900), the first two-way messaging pager, and the RIM 900 OEM radio modem.
    • Commentary: The RIM 900 was the origins of the BlackBerry as you know it today. You can read about it here on Wikipedia. (Thanks Craig for the picture below!)



  • RIM became a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE: RIM).
  • RIM introduced the RIM 901M OEM radio modem, the RIM 801D OEM radio modem and the RIM Wireless PC Card for Mobitex.


  • 850-950 RIM introduced the RIM 950 Wireless Handheld™ – RIM Product Page
    • Commentary: This is the device that started it all! This is the one everybody remembers seeing and asking “What is that?” It seems like it had a few names back then and was even rebranded a few times. I remember playing Mario Bros. on one of these… back when applications were developed in C.
  • RIM licensed the Intellisync Synchronization Platform from Puma Technology to enhance its wireless handhelds.
    • Commentary: Let the synching begin! As you can see from this press release, this is what enabled PIM synching in the future.


  • RIM got listed on the Nasdaq.
  • blackberryserver RIM introduced the BlackBerry wireless email solution, BlackBerry Enterprise Server Software for Microsoft Exchange and the RIM 850 Wireless Handheld as well as the RIM 802D OEM radio modem and the RIM 902M OEM radio modem.
    • NOTE: It looks like the original 950 was rebranded as the 850 for a different network around the same time BES was introduced. Not sure what the differences are since they look the same on paper and on RIM’s description. UPDATE: The RIM 850 ran on the competing DataTAC network compared to the 950 which ran on the Mobitex network. Mobitex vs DataTAC is similar to the GSM vs CDMA competion we have now. Thanks Parabola!
    • Commentary: The BlackBerry name was then born along with the BES! The funny part is that the devices themselves were not originally called “BlackBerry”. The enterprise server got the BlackBerry branding first and the devices were called RIM Wireless Handhelds. Makes you wonder about their whole story about the origin of the name “BlackBerry” coming from the little keys looking like blackberry/strawberry seeds…

To be continued…

8 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. This is a great article. Thanks, Ronen. I’m looking forward to part two…


  2. I actually sold the first 900s in Canada based on a block of wood mock up. Should have bought a ton of stock . Oh well.

  3. Hi Ronen,

    Great article … brings back a bunch of memories, as I worked at RIM for a few years in the early 90s. Here are some other tidbits to add, although I’m going mostly by memory. Others can probably confirm, and I’m sure RIM would be cool in helping you out with info for these articles.

    – did you know that DigiSync earned RIM an Emmy and an Oscar?

    – the 850 operated on the DataTAC network ( … Mobitex vs. DataTAC was like the precursor to GSM vs. CDMA. 🙂

    – I actually don’t recall that it was the server that used the BlackBerry name first. It very well could be, but doesn’t ring a bell and seems odd.

    • Early 00s, I should say … I’m not that old!

      • Thanks for the update Parabola! I will incorporate it into the history. I knew there had to be a difference.
        About the first time BlackBerry was used. I can definitely say that the devices were not called BlackBerrys before the BES server was released. Could be people thought of them that way but they were RIM Wireless Handhelds 🙂

  4. I actually recently bought my first every BlackBerry device, a Curve 8330. I’ve been on Win Mobile/Palms before now, but will never go back! This story about the BB History is awesome and I can’t wait to read part 3, the color BlackBerrys. Back then, I was on my first or the first color Palm Hanheld around 1999 – 2000. That sure brings back some memories.

    • Glad you are liking it Greg. The basic information is not hard to come by. The research into all the parts takes awhile so I have broken it into manageable chunks. 🙂 Hopefully Part III will come next week.

  5. I worked at a network called ARDIS in the mid to late 90’s. We were the first real wireless data network, created jointly by IBM and Motorola. Moto provided most of the “modem” technology, but I do remember when the guys from RIM came down to Chicago to pitch us on an alternative to the mother ship Motorola. They had some great ideas and generally drove Motorola do make their devices smaller and lighter, with better keyboards. It was hard to take them seriously though, as it was just a bunch of guys in Canada trying to make a really difficult product. The guys from RAM mobile data jumped on board before us, and turns out they were right. We were stuck with big, clunky Motorola devices and they (Mobitext) had all the slick small devices. Thought you guys might be interested in a little more detail.

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