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BlackBerry re-emerged this year after a tumultuous time of soul-searching with a new name, and a new platform, BlackBerry 10. The launch was watched with great interest in emerging markets such as South Africa, Nigeria, Indonesia and Malaysia where the Canadian smartphone maker’s low-cost, unlimited data offering has been a huge catalyst for its success in these regions.
BlackBerry 10 is a radical departure for the smartphone maker who fell behind iOS and Android when it smashed into the limitations of BlackBerry 7 and earlier versions of the OS. BlackBerry became a victim of its own success when its devices, initially built for enterprises, caught favour with consumers who would later demand the rich multimedia experiences offered by competing platforms.
The original BlackBerry architecture wasn’t conceived to flourish in a consumer setting. Instead, it was designed to protect corporate communication — this was done through BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), a service that created a closed network through which employees could communicate securely. The devices were also really adept at compressing data to allow for rapid communication over the slower networks that existed at the time. This key element made BlackBerry an alluring consumer option. By compressing data, carriers could offer consumers unlimited data plans at very competitive prices. The service became known as BlackBerry Internet Service or BIS.
Again and again, despite the allure of the multimedia experiences offered on competing devices, cash-strapped consumers chose a BlackBerry with BIS to enjoy unlimited email, web browsing and BlackBerry Messenger without having to worry about data overages. When BlackBerry 10 was announced, BlackBerry revealed that the new platform would be sold to consumers without the option of BIS. This made sense as BlackBerry 10 would offer core services such as BBM, as well as new data intensive multimedia experiences that would not and cannot benefit from BIS’s additional routing and compression overheard.
At the same time, BlackBerry confirmed that it remains committed to BlackBerry 7 devices which will still be bundled with BIS — in fact, the company has said that it plans to release new BlackBerry 7 smartphones. At this point, for no apparent reason, pandemonium erupts. Misinformation spreads that BIS will be discontinued for both BlackBerry 7 and 10, which inevitably leads carriers to scramble to calm upset customers.
No, BIS is not going away, but the fact that it does end with BlackBerry 7 seemingly leaves loyalists with a tough decision when it’s time to upgrade: stay with BlackBerry 7 and BIS, or embrace the dazzle of BlackBerry 10 and bite the data bullet.
On closer inspection, it might be less of a problem than it seems. Some carriers have anticipated the change and is offering some of the most competitive data packages ever launched in their region, while others such as South Africa’s biggest carrier, Vodacom, has stepped in to offer unlimited basic BBM with BlackBerry Z10s sold before 31 May. As demonstrated in the US, unlimited data offerings simply aren’t sustainable, but as emerging markets grow, data plans will hopefully start to parallel the pricing in mature markets.
When you consider that the Z10 is a high-end device, and that BlackBerry’s roadmap includes lower-tier devices, the company might yet hang on to the foothold it managed to carve out with its low-cost data offering in emerging markets — carrier partnerships permitting.