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The BlackBerry Solution

To illustrate the shortcomings of closed messaging solutions, we will take the case of BlackBerry as a specific example. While the description and analysis throughout this section applies specifically to the BlackBerry system, similar principles apply to all closed messaging systems.

BlackBerry is a Mobile Messaging solution from Research In Motion (RIM). It satisfies all the Mobile Messaging requirements specified above: it provides users with general e-mail capability; the end user devices satisfy the unconscious carry criterion; and it supports the push mode of operation - incoming e-mails are delivered directly to the handheld device, which then immediately advises the user of their arrival.

BlackBerry can be used as a stand-alone Mobile Messaging system; alternatively, it can be integrated with a user's existing home or office e-mail account. In this case it appears to the user as a wireless extension of his existing desktop, corporate, or ISP-based e-mail service. The user can freely access and manage the wireless mailbox, while the system maintains synchronization with the land-based mailbox.

In the following sections, we will describe the major characteristics of the BlackBerry system. For complete details, see the BlackBerry website at

It is important to note that the BlackBerry messaging implementation represents nothing fundamentally novel. All the basic concepts, methods and processes represented in the implementation have been previously known and put into practice by others - RIM has merely packaged those concepts and brought them to the mass market.

How BlackBerry Works

The overall operation of the BlackBerry system is shown in Figure 1. All BlackBerry-specific components are shown shaded in this figure. (Note: Figure 1 and the following description represent our understanding of the BlackBerry system at the time of writing in February 2001. Because the system is closed and technical information regarding its operation is unavailable, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this description; nor is there any assurance that RIM will not change the operation of the system in the future. The following description is based on RIM's promotional information, supplemented with our own educated assumptions where necessary. For the latest and most reliable information, refer directly to RIM's own materials.

Note also that our purpose in providing this description is not to reverse engineer the BlackBerry system; rather, it is to illustrate the characteristics of closed Mobile Messaging systems in general. Minor inaccuracies in our description of BlackBerry are therefore not of any great importance.)

Figure 1: The BlackBerry Solution
The BlackBerry Solution

The BlackBerry user is provided with a wireless handheld device, shown on the left side of the figure. The user has a choice of either of two alternative device styles: a pager-style form factor, or a palm-style form factor. The device has an integral wireless modem, allowing communications over the BellSouth Intelligent Wireless Network.1 The device is equipped with RIM's software implementation of their proprietary wireless-oriented protocol, allowing the device to communicate with the similarly equipped BlackBerry Message Center.

The mobile device is supported by the proprietary, RIM-operated BlackBerry Message Center, shown in the center of Figure 1. Any e-mails addressed directly to the mobile device are fielded by this Message Center using standard Internet protocols, then delivered to the mobile device using the proprietary RIM wireless protocols. The device modem remains on at all times to accept incoming messages, and the device notifies the user immediately whenever a new message arrives.

To send a message, the user composes the message then submits it to the BlackBerry Message Center via the RIM protocols. The Message Center then sends the message to its destination using standard Internet e-mail protocols.

More often, the user wishes his mobile messaging capability to function as a wireless extension of an existing e-mail account. The user may choose to have the BlackBerry system function as an extension of his Microsoft Outlook desktop mail application. In this case, the user installs the BlackBerry Desktop Redirector software on his PC. This situation is shown at the top of Figure 1.

The Desktop Redirector software integrates with the Microsoft Outlook mail application, and allows selected e-mails to be forwarded to the wireless device on the basis of user-defined e-mail filters. Properly qualified e-mails are forwarded to the BlackBerry Message Center using standard e-mail protocols, which then delivers them to the mobile device using the RIM protocols.

When the user sends a message, the BlackBerry Message Center sends the message to its destination as usual, but in addition sends a notification to the BlackBerry Desktop Redirector so as to maintain mailbox synchronization between the handheld device and the desktop mail application. Similar synchronization is maintained for any other action the user might take, such as message forwarding, deletion, etc. The mailbox synchronization protocols required to accomplish this are also proprietary to RIM.

For integration with corporate e-mail systems, RIM provides the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which integrates with the Microsoft Exchange Message Center, as shown on the right of Figure 1. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server functions in much the same way as the Desktop Redirector, except that mail redirection and synchronization take place at the corporate Message Center, rather than the user's desktop mail application. As before, qualifying e-mails are forwarded to the BlackBerry Message Center, then delivered to the mobile device.

The BlackBerry system can also be integrated with certain third-party Service Providers; at the time of writing there are four of these: OneMain, RCN, Rogers AT&T, and PageNet Canada. The nature of the business relationship between RIM and these companies is unknown to us; our guess is that in each case RIM licenses the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to the Service Provider, which then integrates it with its in-house Message Center system. Regardless of the actual business arrangement the end result is the same: the Service Provider is then able to offer the BlackBerry system to its customers as a wireless extension of their regular e-mail account. This situation is shown in the lower right of Figure 1. The functional logistics in this scenario are essentially no different from integration with corporate Message Centers.

BlackBerry: Mobile Messaging Confirmation

Mobile Messaging solutions such as BlackBerry have been well received by consumers. Users generally report a high level of customer satisfaction, and such systems have experienced steadily increasing adoption and usage. The basic reason for this is that these systems provide a tremendous value proposition to the user:

Mobile Messaging systems provide instant delivery of important or time-critical e-mail messages to mobile users, using an unconscious carry device. The mobile device is always on, and is guaranteed to get you the information you need, whenever, and wherever, you happen to be.

The market acceptance of systems like BlackBerry unequivocally confirms that Mobile Messaging, with the requirements defined in Section 2, is the killer application in the wireless data communications arena. Unconscious carry, push mode, and full e-mail functionality: these are the key characteristics that have established Mobile Messaging as a viable commercial concept. And these are the same characteristics that will define the Mobile Messaging industry of the future.

BlackBerry: A Closed Solution

Despite its proven value proposition, BlackBerry remains a closed messaging solution. It is a proprietary package of integrated components and services, supplied by a single vendor.

The key component of the BlackBerry system consists of the protocols used for final-leg communication between the BlackBerry Message Centers and the mobile devices. However these protocols belong exclusively to RIM. They are heavily protected by patents, are not published or otherwise made available to potentially competing vendors, and are otherwise treated as trade secrets.

For this reason, BlackBerry consists of precisely the components and services defined by RIM. Because of the closed nature of the protocols, it is not possible for any other vendor to provide any alternative component of the BlackBerry solution. This is all very much by choice on the part of RIM, of course, who are executing a business model based on the classical ``sustainable advantage.''

An integrated package of components is required to bring Mobile Messaging capability to the end user. The various required components, and the way in which the BlackBerry system supplies these components, are summarized below:

BlackBerry is thus, from beginning to end, from A to Z, defined and controlled by RIM.

A further consequence of the closed nature of the RIM protocols is that they have received no external engineering scrutiny or validation. They are known to function adequately in the environment and usage patterns defined by the BlackBerry solution, but no information is available regarding their technical merits - for example, no data is available by which to judge the performance, reliability or scalability of these protocols.

In addition, no detailed information is available regarding the BlackBerry security implementation. Security issues are discussed in greater detail in Section 6.

BlackBerry: Not All Things to All People

Most of the closed aspects of the BlackBerry system do not directly affect the experience of the end user. For example, the typical user neither knows nor cares that the system is limited to the BellSouth Intelligent Wireless Network.

However, the closed nature of system is immediately evident to the end user in the form of the BlackBerry devices. While most users are extremely satisfied with the Mobile Messaging functionality of their device, they may be less than completely satisfied with its other features.

A device manufacturer may be able to do one thing very well, but it is extremely difficult to do everything well. BlackBerry provides Mobile Messaging functionality very well. The BlackBerry devices also provide the other standard PDA applications: calendar, address book, memopad, task list etc.; however, the BlackBerry implementation of these applications falls well short of others in the marketplace. For example, once users have experienced the superlative Graffiti text-entry interface of Palm devices, text entry on BlackBerry seems clumsy and frustrating.

Even apart from the merits of one device over another, there is the simple matter of taste and familiarity; people grow used to a particular device or application, and have a reluctance to change to something different.

As a general-purpose PDA, BlackBerry is inferior in many ways to other devices, most notably the popular Palm family. For this reason users find themselves carrying around two devices: their preferred PDA, plus BlackBerry as a specialized paging/messaging device. The solution to this inconvenience is abundantly obvious to the puzzled end user, who asks, ``Why must I carry both of these? Why does my preferred PDA not do what BlackBerry does?''

It is not that users have any dissatisfaction with the messaging functionality of BlackBerry - it is just that they would prefer to have this same functionality on their favorite PDA.

Clearly, what is required is for the Mobile Messaging capability of BlackBerry to be available on any mobile device - and WhiteBerry makes this possible.

Strategic Myopia: More Closed Solutions

Because the value proposition has now become so clear, various companies are eager to jump on the Mobile Messaging bandwagon, or have already done so. For those companies that already have existing relevant assets, this is not difficult to do. A good example is Palm, which has a tremendously powerful asset in the form of its installed base of approximately 11 million PDAs. These can be wireless enabled with a variety of existing modems, and can therefore readily form the basis for a Mobile Messaging solution. In addition to its very positive effect on their PDA sales, this would also provide Palm with immediate entry into the Subscriber Services business arena, a highly desirable and natural extension of their existing business model.

Palm thus has every reason to launch a Mobile Messaging solution: they have a vital asset, it is easy to do, and the business advantages are enormous. Evidently none of this is lost on Palm, who recently announced their intention to market wireless-enabled versions of their PDAs in the second half of 2001 [24]. Also, the opportunity to capitalize on the shortcomings of the BlackBerry devices is not lost on Palm CEO Carl Yankowski, who says:

``We can do everything that (Research In Motion) does not''

For reasons discussed in Section 7.4, there is a great temptation for businesses to implement closed and proprietary solutions. Thus far, every player to enter the Mobile Messaging arena has succumbed to this temptation. Palm has not yet provided information on whether it will be implementing a closed or an open messaging solution, or what the underlying protocols will be. However, we do not expect Palm to be any exception.

Other companies have been faced with a similarly clear-cut imperative to enter the Mobile Messaging market, and as a result there is now a multiplicity of messaging solutions available. In addition to BlackBerry, messaging solutions are currently being marketed by Glenayre, Skytel, Metrocall, Motorola and River Run. AOL has also recently joined the marketing fray with its Mobile Communicator product (though this is in fact the BlackBerry system re-marketed under AOL's name).

However, all of these are closed solutions, and are therefore subject to precisely the same limitations, and ultimate non-viability, as BlackBerry.

The companies who are developing and marketing these solutions are suffering from strategic myopia. The existence of a plethora of closed, non-interoperating Mobile Messaging solutions results in technological and market fragmentation, which clearly cannot persist in the long run.

Sooner or later, the Mobile Messaging industry must and will adopt an open solution model. Any closed solution is doomed to eventual (and we believe speedy) extinction.

next up previous contents
Next: The WhiteBerry Solution Up: Operation WhiteBerry Creation of Previous: Mobile Messaging Requirements   Contents