Looks like RIM has realised that its BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) messaging platform is one major draw when it comes to keeping users latched on to the platform. Feeling the heat of the stiff competition from other mobile P2P messaging platforms, especially the multi-platform WhatsApp, the company is now, along with major operators Vodafone and Airtel, offering BBM-specific tariff plans, including a daily plan with Vodafone.
Vodafone has launched a Go BBM service plan, where users can pay Rs 129 per month or Rs 5 per day for unlimited access to BBM. The plan will be launched next week for both prepaid as well as postpaid subscribers. In addition to the plan, Vodafone is offering unlimited BBM access for an year to users who purchase a BlackBerry Curve 8520 or 9300 smartphone. Airtel has also launched a similar plan wherein its Postpaid customers can pay a monthly rental of Rs 129 and get unlimited BBM access and 300 national SMS free. Strangely the plan is not available for prepaid customers.
Till now, BlackBerry users required a subscription to BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) or BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) to access the internet, e-mail and BBM. Operators later introduced cheaper ‘messaging only’ plans that offered access to just e-mail and instant messaging, restricting internet use, when RIM launched cheaper handsets and started targeting the youth. With BBM-only plans RIM is trying to target users who mainly use their device for messaging. Remember that in addition to text BBM also offers the ability to share location, or exchange pictures, videos, voice notes, files and more with other BBM contacts.
By offering unlimited messaging for a fixed rental, in a market where the regulatory body, TRAI has fixed the upper limit for text messaging at 200 per day, Airtel and Vodafone appear to be trying to lure heavy-texters to BBM.
For RIM, this results in boosting the sales of its handsets, because of the peer effect. For instance if two people in my group buy a BlackBerry phone, the others tend to get influenced to also buy a BB so that they can stay connected. I see an increasing number of my Facebook friends putting their BB Pins along with their other contact details. More so, when RIM is offering a basic BB handset at a sub-Rs 10,000 price, making a case for a second ‘messaging oriented’ device. RIM benefits in two ways – one from the increase in device sales and the second from the service revenue, since users who would at times buy a BlackBerry handset without using any BlackBerry service plan (believe me I know a lot of people who do), would now have a reason to subscribe to one.
However, WhatsApp which is available on iOS, Android, Symbian, Nokia Series 40, Windows Phone7 in addition to BlackBerry platforms, charges a fixed annual fee (one time download fee on iOS) is still a major threat. We feel that RIM should make BBM cross platform* (We do know that there were rumours of RIM making BBM available, albeit in a limited way, on other mobile OS platforms, but these were ultimately quashed by a company executive) and charge an annual fee or a fixed download fee to offer limited features. It can keep major features and app-integration on its own platform.
How does this work out for the telecom operators? What is the incentive that they have, in switching SMS usage to BBM?
* Updated with a minor addition.