Pearl makes BlackBerry ripe for O2

11 Jun 2007

A surge in BlackBerry sales has vindicated O2’s long-term commitment to the mail-on-the-move solution and suggests that Research In Motion (RIM), which makes the products, has got it right with its latest devices.

“It’s been an explosion for us in the past six months, driven by the BlackBerry Pearl. We’re now doing the same volume on a month-to-month basis that it took us to do in the first two years of selling BlackBerry products,” said Billy D’Arcy, O2’s head of business sales and services.

“We have forecast ambitious monthly targets and we keep going over them. It’s not unusual for us to get customer orders that go into the hundreds. For certain companies we have provisioned more than a thousand devices.”

Six years ago O2 launched its first BlackBerry device, a rather clunky black and white handset, to a somewhat muted response from Ireland’s business fraternity. Sales failed to meet expectations that had been fuelled by the hype in North America where the BlackBerry had become a mainstay of US corporate culture, picking up the nickname ‘crackberry’ because of its addictive qualities – ‘when it’s so easy to pick up email it’s hard to stop’.

O2 was first to market with BlackBerry in Ireland, around two years ahead of Vodafone, and still prides itself on leading the way. Last year it was the first operator to launch the Pearl, suggesting O2 has a greater enthusiasm for BlackBerry products and perhaps a better relationship with RIM.

Further evidence of this can be seen in Vodafone’s commitment to develop other email platforms because it considered BlackBerry too expensive for many of its prospective customers. “That has not been our experience,” comments D’Arcy.

O2 does, however, use other mobile email solutions and is well positioned to support the emergence of Microsoft’s platform based around Windows Mobile 5.0. Its Xda range of smart phones, which includes the recently launched Orbit, all use the Microsoft mobile operating system.

“Windows Mobile will be significant in time and it will grow, not least because it’s coming from a very low base,” says D’Arcy.

Asked to explain why the BlackBerry has suddenly taken off, he identifies a number of reasons. The first is simply the time it takes for business to grow accustomed to a new technology solution. “In the early days it was about planting the seeds of the idea in companies. Now, they have had sufficient time to understand the real business benefits of the BlackBerry,” he says.

The second factor is RIM’s attempt to deliver a more stylish type of device, personified by the sleek contours of the Pearl. “It looks and feels like a robust device, but it also works as a fashion phone, which is a real trend at the moment,” says D’Arcy. The fact that it even has a camera on board, something RIM said it would never include, suggests a softening of approach and an acknowledgement that fun and fashion factors are as integral as easy access to email.

D’Arcy says the look and feel of a device is hugely important, even for a business customer, and expects the success of the Pearl to continue with the Swordfish, a new BlackBerry product due out soon.

Another area where O2 has a long-standing commitment is to the concept of teleworking and remote access. Its annual TNS MBRI report (published earlier this month) showed tangible growth suggesting that Ireland’s corporate culture is opening up to the idea of home working for its employees.

“The number of business people enabled to work from home at least one day a month has almost doubled since two years ago when we first carried out the survey. And those working more than four days from home has trebled,” says D’Arcy.

The challenge of enabling the home worker, particularly among SMEs, is a hard one that O2 has addressed. “Remote access is not just about being able to provision it. You also have to be able to do it in a safe and secure manner so that the company is not exposed at a later date,” he says.

A relatively new O2 product, AccessMyLan, sets out to address this. Charged on a monthly basis, €18.15 per month per seat, it’s a subscription-based VPN service whereby users with no technical expertise can log on to the site and connect back into the company network within minutes.

“It’s a simple click-and-play solution that gives security to SMEs without having to talk to them about firewalls and servers,” says D’Arcy. “They don’t want that complexity. It gives their employees improved work-life balance, letting them work from home while still being able to access office files.”

The service is also a boon for mobile workers who can access the company LAN using O2’s mobile data card in a laptop. At the moment the connection will be made over 3G or GPRS but the launch of the company’s HSDPA network, which will quadruple day data speeds, is imminent. The O2 data card, the Sierra Wireless 850, is already HSDPA compatible.

D’Arcy downplays the significance of HSDPA, pointing out that the existing networks are adequate for most business users. “We have customers using 3G today that more than meets their requirements. If you are just going on the internet, for example, you don’t actually need faster speeds. HSDPA is about future-proofing customer requirements.”

By Ian Campbell

Pictured – Billy D’Arcy, O2’s head of business sales and services