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AT&T, the BlackBerry 8820, and GPS: BGR MythBusters Edition

It was recently reported by BlackBerry Cool that the BlackBerry 8820, when released by AT&T, will have it’s GPS features neutered. They said it was being influenced by AT&T’s deal with Apple for the iPhone and even stating that T-Mobile’s launch of the BlackBerry 8820 (the same device, mind you) would be better. There has since been a follow-up story which says, due to outrage expressed by the collective online BlackBerry community, GPS will no longer be disabled.

To clear up some of the confusion, this is NOT a new limitation to BlackBerry devices on AT&T. This started with the BlackBerry 8800, the first GPS-enabled BlackBerry device for GSM carriers, months before the release of the Apple iPhone. This is simply a software-enabled limitation very similar to locked themes that are bundled with all flavors of the BlackBerry device software packages. This is not a hardware/firmware-based limitation, as is the case with Verizon’s actual neutering of GPS functions on their devices (all of which have the GPS chipset on-board, mind you). Hit the jump for the whole run down!

Here’s a run-down of more well-known software and carrier-based restrictions found within the BlackBerry installation files:

BlackBerry.alx – Carrier themes (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Bell, Rogers, Vodafone, etc)
Platform.alx – Push-To-Talk (AT&T)
LBS.alx – BlackBerry Maps, GPS (AT&T, Orange)
Phone.alx – TTY (T-Mobile US)


From the LBS.alx device software installation file for the BlackBerry 8820:
  <!– For 8800 series, hide the icon for Docomo (220), AT&T (102), Vodafone Germany (124), Vodafone Austria (137) and all Orange properties, including Amena (Orange Spain – 175). –>
  <fileset SystemSize=”normal” Colour=”True” Java=”1.0″ _vendorID=”~220|102|124|137|119|162|142|183|147|217|175″ series=”8800″>

What does all of that mean?

– The comments between the <!– –> tags pretty much spells it out. For certain carriers, including AT&T, the ICON for BlackBerry Maps is hidden. The actual BlackBerry Maps application is installed to the device.

– The XML tag attribute labeled _vendorID denotes various carrier identification numbers (as defined by RIM). The tilde trailing the open quotation for this attribute denotes an exclusion. For clarification, in the event that it’s not clearly stated above in the comment, AT&T’s Vendor ID is 102. The XML tag attribute labled series denotes what BlackBerry series is being affected by this particular restriction – in this case, the 8800 series, which includes the 8800, 8820 and 8830 (more on this later, for the naysayers).

So basically what this particular XML entry instructs the BlackBerry Application Loader (found in Desktop Manager, for those not familiar with the terminology) to do is load the net_rim_bb_lbs_ribbon.cod module (the BlackBerry Maps icon) to all BlackBerry 8800, BlackBerry 8820, and BlackBerry 8830 devices except those with the Vendor ID number of those listed.

To further this little technical exploratory, to view your device’s Vendor ID, from the home screen, press and hold ALT+CAP+H. This will display a screen entitled Help Me! (fitting for this article). The Vendor ID will be displayed atop this list; my AT&T-branded Curve showing a 102 value.

Going back to the series=”8800″ attribute and value, you can typically view the Device.xml file to discover more information on the devices and their XML-linked attributes, which are part of the source for these ALX installation restrictions.  With that said, for the BlackBerry 8820, the information has been placed at the top of the Platform.alx file. Listed below is the content of this, which clearly shows the series being listed as the 8800 family.

                <os radio=”GPRS-WLAN” series=”8800″ Colour=”True” Theme=”Normal” JVMLevel=”1.0″ VoiceNotes=”True” pttApp=”True” Memory=”Large” KeyboardType=”Qwerty” Sound=”Tunes8700g” SystemSize=”normal” Bluetooth=”True” MMS=”True” GPS=”True” ThemeSupport=”Enhanced” VAD=”True” JPN_Input=”False”>GPRS/rim8820g.sfi</os>

This is hardly a limitation or a restriction, but rather a strategic means for AT&T and TeleNav to gather $10 in additional monthly service fees from unwitting customers. TeleNav is worth the subscription, but some customers would prefer to go the free route (BlackBerry Maps, Google Maps). The BlackBerry 8820 has never been hardware-restricted for GPS services nor was it restricted to the use of TeleNav only.

We aren’t hearing the Germans on Vodafone or the French and British on Orange or the Japanese on DoCoMo complaining about the same restriction, nor did we ever hear a peep about this SAME issue when AT&T first launched the BlackBerry 8800 six months ago. I hope this clears up the non-issue that has become a whirlwind of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the release of the BlackBerry 8820 and it’s GPS capabilities.