Dubai: The UAE's two telecom operators Emirates Telecommunication Corporation (etisalat) and Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du) will develop "alternative" products and service for BlackBerry users as the country's regulator suspends current services on the device.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) on Sunday announced its decision to suspend BlackBerry services by October 11 and instructed operators to "ensure minimal consumer disruption in the provision of alternative services".
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Etisalat spokesperson Ahmad Bin Ali told Gulf News that there would be a lot of alternative services, but did not provide any clarification. "Alternatives and all information will be announced hopefully this week, as we just received the announcement from TRA today," Ali said on Sunday.
A TRA spokesperson said that all operators — etisalat, du and Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian maker of BlackBerry — are working to find a service that falls under the TRA regulation and the UAE law. The regulator has earlier said that due to the level of security on the devices and their inaccessibility to third-parties, poses a national security threat. It has been in talks with RIM to work around the issue, but the manufacturer has not said it would make any changes for the UAE.
It declined to comment on the suspension order when contacted by Gulf News.
"With no solution available and in the public interest, in order to affect resolution of this issue, as of October 11, 2010, Blackberry Messenger, Blackberry Email and Blackberry Web-browsing services will be suspended until an acceptable solution can be developed and applied," TRA Director General Mohammad Al Ganem said in a statement.
Statement from etisalat on the TRA decision
du statement on the TRA decision
The TRA spokesperson said that the suspension was decided after it was discovered that the device does not fall under UAE law. The BlackBerry has been in use in the country since 2007.
"The option for alternative services ... is the most important priority," Al Ganem said. "I would be surprised if it gets to the possible plan of suspension. I think it might not be the end of the line but just a way to build pressure on RIM," telecoms analyst Matthew Reed an editor at Informa telecoms and media told Gulf News.
He said that the October 11 deadline leaves time for the involved parties to find a solution.
Etisalat has said that mobile data services account for 15 per cent of mobile subscriptions, including smartphone, broadband.
"The BlackBerry is probably the biggest single component of that at 5 to 10 per cent," Reed said. "Revenues they make from smartphones are typically three to fives times as much from regular phones."
The UAE has an estimated 500,000 BlackBerry users.
The suspension would include suspension of BlackBerry services providing email, web browsing, instant messaging and social networking, etisalat said in a statement.
"Etisalat has an obligation to act within the law and the regulations of the TRA, while at the same time, providing our customers with the best service," it said.
"Customers will be able to continue using their BlackBerry devices for Voice, SMS, MMS and web browsing not using blackberry service as these services will remain unaffected," said du, adding that in the coming days, it would be making an announcement on the new plans.