BTL’s bet on Blackberry - Bang or Bust?

BELIZE CITY - At a time when loose cash is as elusive as well, cash, Belize Telemedia is investing heavily in jumping on the Smart Phone bandwagon in hopes of increasing market share as well as profit margins. While smart money and America’s largest telecoms are leaving the door wide open to consumer choice, BTL has signed on to Research in Motion, (RIM), the company that manufactures Blackberry.

First let’s look at what a smart phone is, i.e. any modern phone that can receive email, surf the web with a built-in browser, make phone calls, send texts, take pictures or video, and install useful applications. Apple’s iPhone, Windows Mobile (lots of different brands), Android G1.x, Palm Pre and older models, Blackberry, all of these phones can wirelessly synchronize your email, calendar and contacts. There’s no big difference in the functionality of the different phones when it comes to your email.

Now that we are on the same page let’s look at why get a smart phone, and if so, what are the pros and cons. The average user in Belize buys a cell phone for the primary reason of sending and receiving calls. With the advent of text bundles and text messages costing as low as $.02 Belize per message, that ranks as the second most important thing to do with your cell phone.

So who are those smart phone users BTL is trying to attract to use its Blackberry service? Research showed that more than 50% of smart phone users in the US were between the ages 20-45, and with the UK and Asia pushing similar stats, it’s a fair bet to say Belize is no different.

After Apple successfully launched the Apple iPhone 3G in July of 2008 the local telephone companies all started marketing the rollout and expansion of their networks to support 3G and now more recently 4G, thus truly harnessing the power of the smart phone.

What is 3G? According to Wikipedia 3G or 3rd generation mobile telecommunications is a generation of standards for mobile phones and mobile telecommunication services fulfilling the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) specifications by the International Telecommunication Union. Application services include wide-area wireless voice telephone, mobile Internet access, video calls and mobile TV, all in a mobile environment. To meet these standards, a system is required to provide peak data rates of at least 200 kbit/s. The most common of these are CDMA based like the Smart Network from Speednet.

While the GSM EDGE standard ("2.9G"), that BTL uses, also fulfill the requirements and are approved as 3G standards by ITU, but these are typically not branded 3G, and are based on completely different technologies.

With my old cell phone working just fine and economics playing a vital role in where and how you spend, why invest in a smart phone? Well, this all depends on who you are, what you want it for and what you are willing to sacrifice for one. For teens, it’s all about videos, music, messaging, and keeping it all centralized in one place. FACEBOOK! I dare to say that the #1 reason for teens acquiring a smart phone is based purely on its APPS (Applications for smart phones). Most tech guides will tell you to buy your smart phone based on its operating system as it directly affects how many and which apps you can install on it. Some apps manufacturers do multi-platform manufacturing to accommodate multiple smart phone handsets and operating systems, however, as the base encoding is different from manufacturer to manufacturer, this is often a very expensive venture for app manufacturers and is used only for the most critical of apps.

The chart below shows the company, number of apps and market domination.

Looking at the top four manufacturers, Blackberry not only has the least amount of apps, it also has the least amount of downloads. Apple iOS and Google’s Android clearly dominating the app market, begs to question, why invest in a Blackberry, and at release costs of around $500 Belize per subsidized price, what is the real benefit?

Well if you are looking to surf the web at super high speeds the Blackberry browser fails miserably! Blackberry’s late to the market web browser appears to be kluged together compared to other brands. Most people complain it’s too slow and you have to disable photos to make it work. By comparison, iPhone’s Safari web browser is very fast, even with pictures.

Emails? Blackberry is the only service that requires all of its emails to go through a bank of servers on the East Coast of America before they get to you. There have been several outages over the last few days that have disrupted services in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India and South America. RBC analysts Mike Abramsky and Paul Treiber estimated that about half of BlackBerry's 70 million subscribers outside North America could be affected.

Security? Is this the reason business owners get Blackberry over the competition? Absolutely not! In fact, you have to lower the security in Windows just to make Blackberry work. By default Windows has higher security, but the design of the Blackberry is so archaic you would have to allow the Blackberry account to have full send access to every email box. This means that if the Blackberry account gets hacked, the attacker can send email and SPAM out from every address in your contacts list.

At the end of the day my only suggestion to consumers will be don’t be like your telecommunications company who banked on “Black and Busted” because a marketing executive and some ads on TV told them it was a good idea - seek the advice of a trusted independent professional. After all, it’s your $500 they will be asking you to shell up and its better to be safe than sorry.

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