Blackberry Squeezing

In May, Etisalat announced the introduction of a push email solution utilising Research in Motion's Blackberry service. It marks the Gulf's first exposure to Blackberry, and with the development and growth of alternative mobile email solutions Akshay Lamba considers how much of an advantage Blackberry still has over the competition.

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By  Akshay Lamba Published  July 26, 2006

|~|Lamba,-Akshay200.jpg|~|Akshay Lamba says that if at least 50% of mobile workers have access to e-mail on handheld devices by the end of 2008, there is significant market potential.|~|Wireless e-mail improves business by enabling employees to react more quickly to customers, peers and management by speeding up problem resolution and removing latency in the workflow process. Wireless e-mail/personal information management (PIM) ties into a phenomenon that Gartner calls the “real-time enterprise.” This model predicts an ever-faster flow of information throughout an enterprise, creating a more-efficient, cost-effective, customer-centric organisation. Today, an estimated 1% of enterprise users have wireless access to e-mail on handheld devices. Assuming that at least 50% of mobile workers will have access to e-mail on handheld devices by year-end 2008, the market opportunity is significant. To meet the growing need for wireless e-mail systems, several vendors have produced a variety of offerings. Tapping the synergy: The leader in the wireless email space is the Blackberry solution, recently introduced in the UAE by Etisalat. This solution can be broken down into two main components -the handset and the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES). The BES is designed to work with an organisation's existing enterprise information systems, allowing organisations to benefit from low total cost of ownership and compelling return on investment. Through the Mobile Data Service (MDS) feature, the BES also works with existing corporate data stores and enterprise applications, such as CRM, ERP, business intelligence and document management systems, allowing organisations to extend this information over wireless access technologies. MDS is designed to leverage the delivery mechanism and push architecture of BES to provide security, reliable delivery and wireless network connectivity for end users. Research In Motion's Blackberry, originally a pager, has evolved to become a compact, handheld wireless terminal, offering e-mail, personal information management (PIM) functions, mobile phone services and enterprise applications on GPRS and now, EDGE networks. RIM is working hard at marketing the security aspect of its Blackberry offering, which is a critical differentiator today. Statements like “over 100 over the air policies” and a focus on supporting every type of encryption, for instance, are strong messages. It is unlikely all Blackberry clients require all the security RIM offers, but it certainly helps RIM in securing business with large companies, financial institutions and government agencies. RIM does well in expanding its value message to include topics like total cost of ownership, ease of use and compatibility with other elements of enterprise infrastructure. However, Blackberry does suffer from some technical weaknesses, which include synchronisation and specialised development environments. Blackberry's advantages include: · Simple, usable e-mail - Blackberry excels at simple e-mail, SMS and PIM functions, providing easy set-up and quick message creation with a built-in QWERTY keyboard. · A reliable “always-on” connection. RIM's devices provide “push-based” e-mail through an event-driven “always-on” connection. GPRS/EDGE network performance and configuration problems are invisible to the user. · Security - The RIM device and e-mail channel are highly secure, using a system based on the Triple DES (data encryption standard) algorithm. · Battery life - Blackberry terminals offer battery life on a par with mobile phone handsets, rather than the often-time shorter battery life of other personal digital assistants (PDAs). Blackberry's weaknesses include: · Proprietary server products - The price paid for security and push-based e-mail is that Blackberry devices and RIM client software require proprietary servers as well as corporate e-mail systems. · Limited device choice - RIM makes a limited range of Blackberry terminals. However, this is being rapidly corrected with more models in both PDA and phone factors and by opening up its gateway to other mobile manufacturers such as Nokia. · Limited third-party application support. Most applications that can be installed on a Blackberry device must have code approved by their quality assurance teams. While this has a big advantage in terms of stability, and malicious code not entering the system, it limits the number of third party applications that can be installed by an end user. · Limited integration with desktop software - RIM clients and servers give some support for viewing e-mail attachments, such as Word, PowerPoint and PDF files. Unlike platforms such as Pocket PC, the RIM products cannot use cut-down versions of office suite software to create information and transfer it to a PC. The closed and limited nature of the RIM device also rules out some of the more innovative options available on PDAs, such as video adapters that allow users to give PowerPoint presentations without a PC. Growing Threats: Blackberry has established a strong position, though the threat from Microsoft is becoming more clearly defined with the development of products such as Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2) and the Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging and Security Feature Pack. Microsoft has thrown down the gauntlet, attacking RIM's core value-added components: its enterprise server, its network operations centre and, with the help of its device partners and Windows Mobile, the actual Blackberry device itself. With the Exchange Server SP2, wireless e-mail can be processed on the native Exchange server, negating the need for extra boxes to manage that function, and a Network Operations Centre (NOC) is no longer necessary to smooth over operational bumps in the wireless internet and to ensure security. The Windows Mobile software implements key security features, such as device wipe and limited policy enforcement. RIM is doing things that many other vendors of development tools for mobile applications and vertical product developers did several years ago. Its development capability is proprietary, low level, technically focused and simplistic. The platform has a simple data store, but is not transactional and has no client-side embedded database. The development capability is simplistic. It assumes that the IT organisation has adopted Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) - which is far from the case in the real world - especially with the legacy applications that organisations may want to mobilise. That said, RIM's future is in supporting server-based applications, including dynamic software downloads versus thick-client applications, where it competes with an entrenched Microsoft. The author is a telecoms & business consultant and can be reached on akshay@lambaweb.com The views in the article are his alone and are not attributed to the publication or to the employer in any way.||**||

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