There is a certain agony and ecstasy — or the two in the reverse order — about the rollout of the much-awaited BlackBerry 10 in the UAE market. The ecstasy is about the fact that RIM, now adopting the name of its best product, selected Dubai to be one among the global centres, along with New York, London and Paris, for the rollout of its next generation product, a make-or-break event for the Canadian company in distress.
The agony is about reports that the smartphone would be launched in the UAE without its most popular feature that permits free voice and video calls on wi-fi, something that BlackBerry desperately hopes will win back at least a part of its lost market share.
Reports appearing in The Wall Street Journal suggested that BlackBerry officials have been in talks with UAE telecom operators on how to ensure the phone is launched with full functionalities even if it involves additional charges being levied. Going by the track record of the UAE’s telecom players, always in the forefront of adopting state-of-the-art technologies, it is unlikely that either du or etisalat would try to resist the introduction of the ‘fully loaded’ product. The most likely resistance in such cases typically comes from the Telecom Regulatory Authority, which in this case, however, is said to favour full-fledged activation as it does not want the UAE to be seen as restrictive.
There is no doubt that the new smartphones and their next generation versions will take away some revenue streams from the current business models of telecom players. However, this cannot be overcome by resisting technology, but instead by adaptation and adjustments to the model. Any business that seeks to move against the direction in which technology moves is bound to fail. The price that companies like Kodak paid for such a fatal mistake is still fresh in our memory.
Telecom companies cannot escape the reality that their conventional business models are crumbling and, therefore, those who fail to innovate and move in new directions have no chance of survival. Consumption patterns are changing and so are value propositions. They have to realise that they are now serving a digital society whose needs are entirely different from what they have been providing all these years. The customers cannot change their profile; the providers have to change theirs.
The coming of age of the digital customer and the total breakdown in their current revenue streams must lead them to realise that their business models of yesteryears are not sustainable any longer. And they have to incorporate this new outlook into every facet of their activity. There is no point in penalising their customers for this. By trying to defend the indefensible, such companies are willy-nilly contributing to their own extermination.
In the past, it was the regulatory authority that was resisting change, for its own obvious reasons, some of which did not have anything to do with the actual cost of the service provided. But at least in this case, that does not seem to be the case as the telecom companies are desperately trying to protect a turf that is no longer theirs by right.
Restrictive technology is not only bad business, it also raises social and ethical issues as it pertains to a vital activity like communication. A typical case is that of services like Skype, which are not allowed in the UAE as per the prevailing rules and regulations. But the blocking does not apply uniformly as sophisticated devices that use appropriate technology are able to access the service without any trouble. So, for all practical purposes, the restriction stays limited to lower-end services, which are mostly used by the less privileged sections of consumers. This, in effect, works to the disadvantage of such customers.
Such selective access actually undermines technology’s cherished role as an agent of empowerment, negating the vital part technology has played in the advancement of society and enrichment of the human experience.
— The writer is a UAE-based journalist.