BlackBerry maker gears up for Asia expansion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2005, 12:00am

Research in Motion hopes to double the number of operators carrying its popular BlackBerry wireless e-mail device in Asia-Pacific by the end of the year, according to a senior executive.

Norm Lo, the firm's newly appointed regional vice-president, said he hoped to add 10 to 15 operators this year to the 15 operators in eight countries that offer BlackBerry devices and e-mail services.

'Adding more carriers is very much part and parcel of how we go to market, and that's how we increase our distribution reach,' Mr Lo said. 'Globally, we will add 100 networks this year - we already have just over 100 - so you can surmise that trend will be the same in this region.'

The firm had already signed a memorandum of understanding with China Mobile, and expected to launch BlackBerry on the mainland later this year, Mr Lo said.

BlackBerry devices bought through overseas operators function on the mainland when roaming, indicating that much of the required infrastructure is already up and running.

Mr Lo said ongoing discussions within the Chinese government about restructuring the industry and issuing 3G licences would not affect the BlackBerry roll-out.

The talks were centred on the advanced 3G standard, while BlackBerry ran on GPRS, Mr Lo said. 'Also, there are a lot of companies in China that want BlackBerry e-mail, so there's a big opportunity now, while all the restructuring is some way in the future.'

The Canadian company recently announced it added about 592,000 users in the three months to May 28, bringing its base to 3.1 million users, and forecast between 620,000 and 650,000 new subscribers in the second quarter.

But the firm will also face stiffer competition later this year when Microsoft launches its own push e-mail on Windows 2003 servers, in conjunction with devices running Windows Mobile 5.0 devices. 'People should separate the facts from the [hype], because their Windows 2003 servers have only around 15 per cent penetration, and Windows Mobile 5.0 handsets are very expensive,' Mr Lo said. 'Even with the Windows upgrade, users still need data plans with wireless operators and those relationships take time to cement.

'Microsoft obviously knows that, but what they know and don't know, and what they say or don't say are very different.'