Telstra picks the BlackBerry

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Telstra is picking BlackBerry's wireless device to spark data growth on the back of its initial direct sales to 100 Australian corporates, unveiling plans to push the technology to SMBs via its network of business partners by year-end.

Telstra launched a BlackBerry wireless device here late last year in an exclusive agreement with its Canada-based developer and vendor, Research in Motion (RIM).

Murray Bergin, MD of mobile sales and solutions at Telstra, said the telco has so far sold the first BlackBerry device released in Australia, the BlackBerry 5820 handheld with phone, email, SMS and PDA functionality, to 100 corporates including Wesfarmers, Brown Brothers and Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

“This could be the hinge year when we see data growth probably not coming from SMS. I think data this year will start to shut that out and grow again past 50 percent and towards 100 percent [in the business market],” Bergin said.

“We see BlackBerry as driving that growth ... I think we'll see BlackBerry driving a goodly proportion of our GPRS traffic this year.”

Bergin said initial sales of the BlackBerry device represented “the fastest sales cycle” he had seen, with 700 units placed in Australian companies in the month to date. “This month [May] we'll get past 1000 units,” he said.

He said Telstra would push Java-based BlackBerry handhelds and a range of BlackBerry platforms, services and applications to a wider range of Australian businesses as the year progressed.

Telstra was adding another unit to its mobile sales force to cover expected demand, Bergin said, with the push into the SMB market to begin in the third or fourth quarter 2003.

He said Telstra would redirect its dealer strategy for voice to target the burgeoning data market. The telco was talking to its current dealers about the best way to do this. “We're upping the number of [sales] reps in my group working with dealer delivery,” Bergin said.

Telstra would increasingly rely on its network of channel and vendor partnerships to drive the expected gains, he said. “Most of [the gains] will be based on business partner growth. That is going to be so important for us over the next couple of years,” Bergin said.

BlackBerry, which runs on Telstra's fast GPRS network, is adding features the Telco believes will increase the technology's value to businesses.

Users would now be able to view Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, WordPerfect or text attachments and access corporate address books.

BlackBerry Enterprise Server integrates with Lotus Domino and Microsoft Outlook. Two-way email synchronisation has now been incorporated, meaning messages will be reconciled automatically via the wireless network, Bergin said.

SMBs and small corporations running Microsoft Exchange will be able to redirect data to BlackBerry devices from their office desktops, using the BlackBerry Desktop Redirector, without installing additional server software.

RIM was also introducing a BlackBerry Web Client, enabling users to use personal web-based email such as Ozemail or BigPond instead of corporate email addresses. A BlackBerry with colour would also soon be available, he said.

Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM, said RIM had formed partnerships with Nokia, Palm, Symbian and HTC as part of its strategy to further develop BlackBerry cross-platform functionality. Meanwhile, BlackBerry's open Java-based standard would encourage future application development, he said.

The BlackBerry Enterprise Server was already operating in 12,000 businesses in 30 nations and expanding into Asia and Latin America.

“This [wireless handheld technology] will become mission-critical,” Balsillie said.

“We think of email, SMS and voice as collaboration, and people want access to collaboration applications so they can collaborate [with others] when they are mobile. Now you can marry collaboration with workflow at the hip.”

Balsillie said RIM has no plans to negotiate with other Australian carriers.

RIM was recently sued successfully by rival firm NTP for damages relating to misuse of a US patent. NTP is also reportedly seeking to ban sales of BlackBerry handhelds. However, Balsillie said the judgement was still “subject to appeal” and the ruling would not affect its business outside the USA.

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