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BlackBerry Internet Service for Your BlackBerry PlayBook

Think of BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) as very similar to the ISP (the Internet service provider) that brings the web to your personal computer, except that BIS is specific to the BlackBerry world. For individual users, BIS works just fine. You get unrestricted (more or less) access to the Internet and great e-mail service right to your BlackBerry device.

The actual mechanism is this: your smartphone communicates with your cellular carrier (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon, as examples of major United States carriers) and the carrier operates a server that goes out to the Internet for web pages and e-mail.

Communication between your BlackBerry device and the carrier is encrypted, meaning it would be very tough for someone to eavesdrop on that part of the exchange. Using a BlackBerry smartphone or a BlackBerry Playbook that connects to the BIS cellular stream is, in general, much more secure than connecting to an open Internet through WiFi or Bluetooth or a basic cable modem or DSL system.

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What isn’t protected? Any information you provide to a website, like your name and credit card number, is only as secure as the web operator allows it to be. If someone hacks into the records of a major online site (cough — Sony PlayStation — cough) and steals the information, well — you’re as vulnerable as the next person, and it has happened more than a few times.

Check your credit card, banking, and financial institution reports regularly and don’t hesitate to contact these companies if you see a transaction you don’t recognize.

Like it or not, an ISP can and sometimes does get involved in determining what websites you can access, what types of attachments you can send or receive, and how much data you can download or upload (or how fast the data moves).

As an example, many cellphone carriers charge by the megabyte for data; others may offer “unlimited” plans, but these sometimes include fine print that says the carrier can either slow down or stop the transmission of data once you reach a certain level in a particular month.

Other carriers may charge you when you use features like the BlackBerry Bridge browser, which in theory allows a BlackBerry PlayBook owner to access the Internet by connecting to a BlackBerry (and perhaps another brand) smartphone and using the theoretically unlimited data plan on the phone for the purposes of the tablet.

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One more thing: although you might think you’re buying a BlackBerry smartphone with all of the features intended to be offered by its maker RIM, when you contract with a cellular provider, they take control of what standard features and apps are included on the device.

The same would apply if you buy a BlackBerry PlayBook from a cellular provider; if you purchase a WiFi-only PlayBook from a source other than a cellular provider, the tablet will come with the full suite of programs and apps (at least on the WiFi side of the equation).

The cellular provider can still limit how a BlackBerry smartphone communicates and interacts with a BlackBerry PlayBook. Indeed, AT&T and several other smaller providers were very slow in supporting the BlackBerry Bridge feature when the PlayBook first came on the market, and the ultimate resolution included some extra charges for functions other companies were allowing for free.

Your best bet is to carefully examine the fine print of any cellular contract before agreeing to it, and not to hesitate to switch carriers if one is better suited to your needs than another.

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