In the fast-moving world of telecommunications, introducing new must-have products to the market and expanding network carrier relationships around the globe are critical. Companies like Research in Motion (RIM) cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

RIM enjoys worldwide popularity with its handheld BlackBerry device. BlackBerry’s e-mail, phone, SMS messaging, internet and intranet-based applications are so in demand that those addicted to thumbing the device refer to it as their “CrackBerry”.

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Co-chief executive and chairman Jim Balsillie and president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis continue to push RIM to new heights as competition for wireless e-mail keeps getting stronger. Yet RIM faces few barriers to market access.

“This is because cell phone use is now widespread,” Mr Balsillie tells fDi. “Most carriers want big multinational suppliers. This is a global phenomenon that creates investment and growth opportunities for us since we sell wireless conversions.”

BlackBerry boom

Today, BlackBerry is in about 65 countries and served by more than 200 carriers. “We will have another 100 countries by year’s end,” says Mr Balsillie.

Carriers launching BlackBerry last year included Saudi Telecom and Mobily in Saudi Arabia; American Mobile in Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala; Djezzy in Algeria; Eurotel in the Czech Republic; Glo in Nigeria; Telefonica Moviles in Nicaragua; and Hutchison in India. Since then, Digicel, the fastest-growing wireless telecommunications operator in the Caribbean, has joined the fold, as have Dopod International in Asia, Trigcom in Norway, Orange Slovensko in Slovakia, and Batelco, Emitac Mobile Solutions in Bahrain.

China Mobile Communications Co, China’s largest mobile operator, promotes and sells BlackBerry service in mainland China. Demand is particularly strong in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. “We are also working with partners to provide BlackBerry devices in mainland China, and expect to have commercial availability in fiscal 2008,” says Mr Balsillie.

Innovation

Since RIM was founded in 1984 in Waterloo, Ontario, the designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative wireless solutions has become a global powerhouse for wireless electronic mail. By developing integrated hardware, software and services that support multiple wireless network standards, RIM continues to develop and provide platforms and solutions from its offices in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Mike Lazaridis

Determined to develop one of the smallest and lightest smart phones in the world while staying true to the iconic BlackBerry user experience, RIM is now taking on the world with its latest innovation, Pearl. Pearl is a stylish wireless e-mail phone with a built-in camera that was three years in the making. “Our intention with Pearl was to open up a new market segment for BlackBerry and this is what we have experienced,” says Mr Balsillie.

 

 

Latest innovation: BlackBerry Pearl

T-Mobile USA in the US began offering the smart phone in September. In October, it became available in Canada from Rogers Wireless and from a variety of carriers in Europe. Availability in Asia-Pacific and Latin America arrived later last year.

To stay ahead of fast-moving competitors, Mr Balsillie emphasises the importance of hiring top talent and expanding RIM’s facilities globally. “There is not a more hot and relevant area of technology as conversions,” he says.

RIM employs more than 5000 workers around the world, up from 2200 in 2004. The majority are based in Waterloo. The company plans to continue to hire and grow its employee base to support its growth and global expansion efforts.

Ramping up

Last year, the company underwent considerable expansion with its ramping up for production for new product offerings. “We aggressively added capacity for Pearl and are presently manufacturing a high volume both in our [Waterloo] facility and with Alcatech in Mexico and Hungary,” reports Mr Balsillie. As a result, last year RIM expanded its Waterloo manufacturing facility from about 36,576 square metres (m2) to about 76,200m2.

RIM also bases its corporate headquarters in Waterloo. “We do our key acquisitions here and have our key employees here. The reality is that Waterloo has skilled workers,” says Mr Balsillie. “We do our core research and development in Waterloo because our work is so specialised. No other location in Canada would work as well.”

With innovation critical to RIM’s success, the University of Waterloo, one of the world’s top engineering schools, offers important advantages. The university serves as an excellent resource for technical talent. Being in Ontario’s ‘Technology Triangle’, RIM also has access to other universities and colleges that offer top-ranked business and trade-specific programmes.

“We work closely with all of them to hire talented and well-educated employees,” says Mr Lazaridis. “And because Waterloo offers a superior quality of life, it’s easier to grow and retain a workforce here.”

RIM also maintains R&D facilities in Ottawa and Mississauga, Ontario. Ontario alone is home to more than 230,000 people who work in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. ICT companies are involved in every sector, including telecoms equipment, software development and services, digital media and web, and microelectronics, as well as cutting-edge technologies like VoIP, wireless broadband and photonics.

Asia-Pacific focus

RIM is highly committed to expanding its presence in the Asia-Pacific. While North America is RIM’s largest market, corporate executives see Asia, with its large population of mobile subscribers and fast-growing markets, such as China and India, as offering great potential.

Last July, RIM expanded its Hong Kong office, which will serve as regional headquarters to assist the company and its partners in markets such as China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and south-east Asia.

“Hong Kong boasts a superb business network, advanced infrastructure, and a highly skilled labour force, making it an ideal location to base our Asia-Pacific operations,” says Norm Lo, vice-president of Asia-Pacific at RIM. “There is significant potential here and the opening of our expanded Hong Kong office will help us to address the increasing opportunities that are being generated in existing and new markets.”

Hong Kong not only boasts an impressive business network, legal system, advanced ICT infrastructure and a highly skilled labour force, but it is also the gateway to mainland China. “This offers significant opportunity for growth,” says Mr Lo.

And because sales and service is an important element of business in Asia, technical support is important to RIM’s expansion in the region. Consequently, it opened a 200-strong customer support centre in Singapore last April to provide 24/7 technical support to carriers, partners and BlackBerry customers in Asia, the US and European markets.

Singapore was selected for its talent base, which is highly skilled in technology, multi-lingual and multi-cultural, plus its excellent telecommunications infrastructure, strategic geographic location and pro-business environment. “Singapore is an excellent fit for RIM’s global customer support strategy,” says Don Morrison, chief operating officer at RIM.

The customer support centre comprises mainly engineers and is one of RIM’s three centres worldwide.

Home front

RIM remains committed to the home front as well. In Canada, it broke ground on its Halifax-area technical support centre last October: the company plans to hire 1200 people for the centre over the next five years. The 13,500m2 building is scheduled to be completed by spring 2008.

The company chose to locate the centre in Halifax because of the city’s quality of skilled labour. More than 2000 students in software and technology-related programmes graduate from Nova Scotia’s post-secondary institutions annually. In addition, 14,000 people are employed in the IT sector in Nova Scotia with just over 8300 employed in software and services.

To convince RIM to base its expansion in the province, the Nova Scotia government offered $19m in subsidies. The funding includes $14m in payroll rebates and $5m for training and recruitment.

“We go to where the talent is,” says Mr Balsillie.