BlackBerry-Maker RIM, Saudis, Reach Messaging Agreement

BlackBerry owners in Saudi Arabia will continue to enjoy BlackBerry Messenger services, following successful negotiations between RIM and authorities in Saudi Arabia. Details of the agreement have not been made public.

The ban on BlackBerry Messenger services in Saudi Arabia is over, the Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 10, citing a statement from the country's Communication and Information Technology Commission.

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion had been in talks with the Saudi government, which believed RIM's ultra-secure Messaging services offered undue benefits to criminals. The government demanded certain, publicly unspecified, changes to the service, and threatened to shut down the service if an agreement wasn't reached by Aug. 6.

The decision to allow the Messenger service to continue operating followed "positive developments in the completion of part of the regulatory requirements on the part of service providers," the CITC told the Journal.

While unclear about what exactly had been decided, the CITC added that it "decided to allow the continuation of BlackBerry Messenger services" while it "continues to work with service providers to complete the remainder of the regulatory requirements."

The Saudi government had announced a non-negotiable deadline of Aug. 6, by which time an agreement would need to be reached. In the end, however, it allowed RIM and mobile operators within the kingdom until Aug. 9 to test proposed solutions, the Journal reported.

Following RIM's successful negotiations with the Saudi government, company brass is now engaged in talks with authorities in the United Arab Emirates-which also plans to suspend BlackBerry services beginning Oct. 11. More than just Messaging, however, the UAE finds fault with BlackBerry services including e-mailing, Web browsing and instant messaging.

While insisting the deadline is firm, officials have stated that they're open to talks. Mohammed Al Ghanim, director general of the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, told the Emirates News Agency Aug. 4, "We remain open to discussions in order that an acceptable, regulatory-compliant solution might be developed and applied."

As RIM negotiates, with customers around the world looking on, the company will have to be careful to protect the security-based image that it has built. Any perception, whether right or wrong, that RIM's services might become relatively less secure in the future could "dent the RIM brand," Analyst Neil Mawston, with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK.

Strategy Analytics believes "corporates will have to be realistic and slightly reset their expectations about security. Few, if any, digital communications can ever operate completely freely from government oversight," said Mawston. "Countries in Asia and the Middle East that already have relatively tight PC Internet controls will increasingly turn their regulatory focus to wireless data services as they become more popular. RIM can probably expect more governments to come asking for negotiations over the coming months."

RIM's expansion into international markets has been a critical part of its ability to continue posting strong revenue figures, even as it struggles in North America against the Apple iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android OS. During RIM's fiscal fourth quarter for 2010, 48 percent of its revenue came from outside North America.

In an Aug. 5 report, research firm IDC named RIM as the second-ranking handset maker worldwide, following shipments of 11.2 million handsets during the second quarter of calendar year 2010-a notable achievement for breaking the 11 million mark. Despite this, the firm noted, RIM lost market share in North America for the fifth quarter in a row.

RIM hopes to regain the affections-and subscriptions-of North American customers with the BlackBerry Torch, its first smartphone to feature both a capacitive touch display and a slideout RIM keypad, as well as its improved OS, BlackBerry 6. Introduced Aug. 3, the Torch is scheduled to debut Aug. 12 on the AT&T network.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This text has been update to include additional analysis.