After nine months work, the project to improve our mobile provision in the UK is at last drawing to a close. The final remaining users to be migrated were the handful of iPhone users, for whom the transition to the new BlackBerry devices was one that demonstrated a real sense of loss. Apple undoubtedly can create technology that users become all anthropomorphic about, and the iPhone has had a massive impact on user interface design that the rest of the market is struggling to get anywhere near. Not only that, but Apple are mysteriously able to maintain a cachet around their products even when they have become the mainstream. U2 flogging BlackBerrys isn’t, in any way, shape or form, going to make them cool.
So, having said all of that, why have I run a project that has made me reasonably unpopular with some of the key people in the business? Well, if you haven’t noticed, there’s been this recession thing going on, and moving to a single voice and data mobile platform will save something in the order of three salaries each year. For a company of our size, that’s significant.
I’ve seen many articles comparing BlackBerry and iPhone as competing platforms for business and they have, exclusively, focused on the relative merits of functionality (usually concluding that BlackBerry is better for email and calendar, the iPhone everything else). But in this present climate, these are in my mind the wrong questions to be asking.
Since RIM (Research in Motion – the manufacturer of BlackBerry) started deploying devices, they’ve had a proprietary data network which delivered email & other data via the mobile phone operators to the devices. There are a couple of features about BlackBerry data that mean that it is then possible to get low-cost, fixed rate data roaming contracts:
The first is the technical one that the mobile operators would like you to believe (and in which there is some truth). The BlackBerry data network is highly optimised for delivering compressed data effectively and efficiently. Therefore, the total volume of data that a BlackBerry device delivers is much smaller than if you used standard Internet over mobile network (a la iPhone, Windows Mobile devices etc. etc.), and so it is lower cost for the mobile networks to deploy.
The second is the market economics one that the mobile companies would not admit to publicly. Roaming call charges still make up a substantial part of the mobile networks’ revenues. Devices like iPhones and Windows Mobile phones have the capability to make Skype-like “Voice over IP” (VoIP) calls, where they use the Internet data network to make phone calls… hence, if you could connect your phone to unlimited Internet data whilst abroad, you could avoid running up big mobile roamed call charges. BlackBerry data networks won’t allow VoIP traffic, so roaming data can be offered on a much more generous basis without risking the cannibalisation of roaming call charges.
Apple managed to change the game in domestic markets with the iPhone as it was the device that really ushered in the beginning of unlimited (or near-as-damnit unlimited) data tariffs. But domestic mobile calls are usually uncharged, or just charged as a bundle within monthly service plans, so there was no revenue to lose with VoIP. Inevitably the same will happen at some point with roamed data, but at the moment it appears to big a leap for the mobile operators.
Recent changes in legislation in the EU for roamed call charges are starting to have an effect, and I know that in continental Europe it is now becoming easier to get inter-country roaming data tariffs for iPhone which don’t break the bank. My bet, however, will be that non-BlackBerry data roaming won’t be cost-effective until at least 2011.
Until that point, if you have a roaming workforce (and for me, two-thirds of the people with voice and data devices regularly travel overseas), BlackBerry is the only cost-effective platform.