UAE BlackBerry users remain in dark over voice feature

Manufacturer declined to say what issues are over the six month delay in introducing BBM Voice
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins. The new BlackBerry Messenger Voice (BBMV) allows customers to make free phone calls over Wi-Fi and is a key feature of the new BlackBerry 10 device.
By Shane McGinley
Tue 30 Jul 2013 10:50 AM

BlackBerry users and agents are still in the dark over when a key voice feature of its latest smartphone will be introduced in the UAE, with the Canadian manufacturer reluctant to reveal what the issues are with the country’s operators and regulators and a likely timeline for its introduction.

BlackBerry Messenger Voice (BBMV) allows customers to make free phone calls over Wi-Fi and is a key feature of the new BlackBerry 10 device, which was officially launched in January.

Despite Dubai being one of the key cities included as part of a global launch across six major cities, BBMV is still not available to UAE BlackBerry users.

“BBM Voice was launched in some markets in the region, so it is available in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) for instance, and some of the other markets we are working through with the operators and various regulators in terms of getting that supported,” Nick Horton, BlackBerry’s new Middle East managing director, told Arabian Business in an interview.

A report in the Wall Street Journal in January said BlackBerry was in talks with UAE operators du and Etisalat over concerns BBMV will impact revenue streams. BlackBerry is also in talks with the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which has apparently encouraged operators to allow the service to be activated, the report added.

However, neither Horton nor Rick Costanzo, BlackBerry’s executive vice president of global sales, were able to divulge what the issues or concerns hindering the introduction of the service or offer a timeline for progress on talks surrounding the issue.

“I am not really at liberty to talk specifically about where the issues are... But we would like to have it as soon as possible,” Horton said.

“You would have to ask the regulators. We can’t comment... It is in our interests to work closely with the regulators to make sure we are fully compliant with the local laws here. We are testing and we are getting closer but we couldn’t comment in terms of timing,” Costanzo said.

“We have always prided ourselves in terms of working with any government and local requirement to bring BlackBerry to market and we not in the business of short changing that or side stepping that.

“We are trying to [bring BBMV to] market for our customers as quickly as humanly possible but in a manner that is consistent with the local requirements and government regulators. It is a fine balance, and we get the tipping point in terms of consumers by all means, but we have to do things correctly.”

Despite the ambiguity surrounding BBMV in the UAE, Costanzo claimed sales of the new BlackBerry 10 were “strong” and the manufacturer had increased its market share in several Gulf states.

“We have seen market share increase in the Middle East, so that is great. We were always top five, particularly the UAE, KSA and Qatar. Since the launch of the BlackBerry 10 we have cracked [the] top three in the UAE and top two in the KSA,” he said.

The company does not release specific market share or unit sales figures in the Middle East.

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