Mystery surrounds BIS plans
Speculation that MTN and other operators are planning to do away with the flat-rate BlackBerry Internet Service in favour of capped products could mean a backlash for the operator and BlackBerry, too. By Craig Wilson.
The flat-rate BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), which has helped make BlackBerry devices so popular in South Africa, may soon be a thing of the past, with talk that operators plan to opt for bundled data of the sort offered with other smartphones.
This may apply to older devices, including those running the BlackBerry 7 (BB7) operating system. It’s already all but confirmed officially that the Canadian company’s new operating system, BlackBerry 10 (BB10), will not support the cheap, unlimited on-device browsing that BIS has traditionally afforded users.
BlackBerry did suggest at the BB10 launch, however, that the current generation of devices running older software would continue to be supported because they remain popular, particularly with the lower end of the market.
In an interview with TechCentral last week, BlackBerry’s product and channel marketing vice-president, Rory O’Neill, said the current offerings are a “great social messaging proposition” and that the company intends to keep innovating around BB7.
A large part of that proposition is that consumers get unlimited browsing, e-mail and access so social media, typically for no more than R59/month.
A post this week on MyBroadband, a consumer forum website, referred to a document — purportedly an official MTN notice — and suggested the operator may be planning to scrap BIS from 1 March in favour of a R59/month package that includes 200MB of capped data. If the notice is genuine, then after this cap has been reached, it appears users will be charged an out-of-bundle rate of 65c/MB.
An MTN spokesman says the operator will issue an official statement to the media if there’s going to be any change to BlackBerry pricing. As it has yet to announce any such changes, talk about its plans for BIS amounts to no more than “speculation”.
If BlackBerry users are forced into buying bundled data in a similar fashion to users of other smartphone platforms, it could mean fiercer rivalry in the mobile data space. MTN rival Cell C, for example, already offers 400MB of data for R60/month with an out-of-bundle rate of 15c/MB.
BlackBerry says the onus is on the operators to set pricing and won’t be drawn on what sort of packages it expects in the market this year. For BlackBerry, competition between the operators could be a good thing as a competitively priced Z10 — its new flagship BB10 device, which goes on sale next month — could result in greater demand. This could help it in its fight with Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and upcoming S4 and Apple’s iPhone 5.
Strategy Worx MD Steven Ambrose says BIS is “going nowhere”.
“Current BlackBerry devices, which run BB7 need BIS or the BlackBerry Enterprise Server in order to work. They can’t work with operators’ own APNs [Access Point Names]”.
“However, the nature of the offering on BIS may very well be changing,” Ambrose says. “BIS will remain until the last BB7 device gives up the ghost.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media