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Old 08-12-2005, 08:42 PM   #1
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Post [2005-08-12] RIM sees fine BlackBerry harvest

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RIM sees fine BlackBerry harvest
By Bernard Simon and Paul Taylor
Published: August 12 2005 03:00 | Last updated: August 12 2005 03:00

If Jim Balsillie is worried about the BlackBerry being toppled from its pedestal among mobile communications devices, he hides it well.

The joint chief executive of Research In Motion, the Canadian company that makes the iconic BlackBerry mobile communications device, says outsiders would share his confidence if they had a better understanding of RIM's strategy and the BlackBerry's place in the fast-moving wireless communications world.

As Mr Balsillie sees it, RIM is not a competitor to other handset manufacturers and phone companies, but a collaborator and enabler. "I'm a lover, not a fighter," he says, speaking at the company's headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario. "We will converge these various players. We will not compete with them."

The BlackBerry - dubbed the Crackberry by some of its most loyal users - is undoubtedly a tempting target, going from strength to strength even as many other technology players have fallen by the wayside.

RIM took almost seven years, from 1997 to early 2004, to sign up its first 1m BlackBerry subscribers. Just 10 months later, last November, it passed the 2m mark. The third million was added by May and subscriber numbers grew by 24 per cent to 3.11m in the latest quarter.

Mr Balsillie expects to add another 600,000 to 650,000 subscribers in the current quarter, underscoring both RIM's accelerating growth, and the expansion of the market for "push" mobilee-mail.

The BlackBerry's success, buoyed by its popularity among senior executives, mobile professionals and the digerati, has helped propel RIM to become the market leader among personal digital assistants, overtaking more established players such as Palm, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

According to Gartner, the research company, RIM had a 23 per cent share of the global handheld personal computer market at the end of June and is the fastest-growing seller of "communicator"-style devices that combine the functions of PDAs and mobile phones.

RIM's revenues have grown more than sixfold in the past five years. But its stock has recently been under pressure. The shares have lost one-fifth of their value from their December 2004 peak of C$111, as investors have reacted to competition from a growing band of rivals (see box).

In another outward sign of its success, RIM now occupies 12 buildings in Waterloo, a university town south-west of Toronto, and will soon move into a 13th. Nearby are the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Institute of Quantum Computing, two philanthropic research centres set up by Mike Lazaridis, RIM's other co-chief executive and founder.

On campus, RIM is in the throes of almost doubling its BlackBerry assembly plant, even as it outsources a growing slice of its manufacturing operations - primarily, say RIM executives, to keep up with demand rather than to cut costs.

Hardware sales make up close to 70 per cent of RIM's revenue, with only about 30 per cent coming from software licensing. But that could be about to change. As part of its strategy to broaden the BlackBerry "ecosphere" and counter rivals' claims that its technology is too proprietary - a charge vehemently denied by Mr Balsillie - RIM has licensed BlackBerry technology to six of the world's seven biggest handset makers including Nokia, the Finland-based market leader.

This week Nokia announced that its 9300 Communicator mobile phone, due to be launched in the US in autumn, will carry RIM's BlackBerry software, enabling users to access their e-mail. Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, Samsung and others have announced similar plans as part of what RIM calls its BlackBerry Connect licensing programme.

As an example of what he describes as outsiders' misguided perceptions, Mr Balsillie cites the much-publicised unveiling last month of the Q, Motorola's new ultra-thin e-mail device.

Motorola announced that the Q would run on the Â*latest version of Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating software; many analysts and commentators then reported the Motorola-Microsoft alliance as a serious threat to the BlackBerry.

But Mr Balsillie notes that just a few days before the announcement, he was talking to Motorola's top executives about how RIM could help make the Q a success. The unveiling of the new product was "just a hype fest with Microsoft", he says.

Until now, the vast majority of BlackBerry users have been employees of governments and large companies in North America, who particularly prize the BlackBerry's security features.

RIM has courted information technology managers in these organisations over the years, and the effort has paid dividends. Most big corporate BlackBerry users have linked the devices to their computer networks using RIM's "middleware" - principally the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which sits inside a company firewall and directs e-mail traffic destined for BlackBerry devices.

RIM sees this as just the beginning. To tap the expanding market for mobile e-mail, it plans to offer a wider range of devices, such as the 7100 series machines that are designed to appeal to a broader, semi-professional market.

As part of this strategy, RIM recently launched its BlackBerry Built-In technology to enable users with other types of mobile device to connect to BlackBerry wireless services. Siemens' SK65 was the first mobile device to use BlackBerry Built-In, but RIM says more deals are in the pipeline.

Second, RIM plans to build subscriber numbers by targeting existing accounts where perhaps only senior executives have access to BlackBerries. It will also push for growth in certain regions, notably Europe.

Third, and perhaps most important, the company plans to exploit its close relationships with mobile carriers to help them drive the adoption of a broader range of mobile data applications.

Mr Balsillie believes companies are "just waking up" to the potential of adapting their core enterprise software applications and logistics systems for mobile workforces using handheld devices. "I think we are on the cusp of a big change that will put zeroes on the numbers of users," he says.

Don Morrison, joint chief operating officer, adds: "What things can you convert to wireless technology that will provide utility or entertainment or some other need? The telecoms area is just waking up to the tools."

Today, about 160 wireless carriers around the world offer BlackBerry devices and the number keeps growing.

"Carriers love us," explains Mr Morrison. "We enable them to maintain a direct relationship with their [enterprise] customers." At a time when many mobile carriers are struggling to offset declining voice revenues, BlackBerrys provide them with a tool to boost higher margin data traffic and reduce customer turnover.

RIM estimates that the lifetime value of a BlackBerry user to a carrier is three times that of an ordinary subscriber and that the average subscriber spends between two to three times as much a month on wireless services.

Since the carriers keep about 93 cents out of every dollar BlackBerry users spend, they are among the carriers' best customers. "We deliver opportunities to the carriers, and we help them move up the food chain," says Mr Balsillie.

To serve this expanding market, he says, the company is preparing a number of new handsets, including devices with more powerful processors, WiFi networking and global positioning satellite systems.

"E-mail was just the beginning," he adds.

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