The truth about BlackBerry and ‘unlimited’ BIS

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

By - March 9, 2013
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There’s no such thing as unlimited. Yet, we live in a world of unlimited voice calls* Unlimited internet* Unlimited ADSL* Unlimited mileage* Unlimited timeshare.*

Every single product or service sold as unlimited comes with that little asterisk. A reminder that there’s a fair usage policy (or some other restrictions in complicated legalese) in place. Why? Because human beings are greedy. And, in the case of unlimited plans, there will always be abusers. Always.

Like the users who manage to download over 100GB of illegal movies a month on their BlackBerrys. Those who hack their phones and manage to fool them into thinking they’re not being tethered to a laptop and being used as a modem, so that they can still use the free ‘unlimited’ data… also to download mountains of illegal content. Let’s face it – these aren’t legitimate, legal files being downloaded.

Operators have acted quietly in the background, to throttle and root out abusers who spoil the experience for everyone. But, their efforts haven’t been helped by vague BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) fair usage policies.

And then, the bombshell from MTN this week. From today (March 1), BIS is toast, and it’s being replaced by what MTN is calling “BlackBerry Absolute.” There is no more unlimited internet, BBM and e-mail. Now, the plan comes with a 200MB fair usage policy. It is this figure that’s caused outrage on social media since the announcement.

200MB! We’re being capped! How dare they?!

Ask these outraged users how much data they use on their BlackBerrys every month, and I’m willing to bet not a single one will be able to tell you.

How much data do you use on your BlackBerry every month?

In my busiest month a year or so ago, with a BlackBerry Bold as my primary phone, I managed 150MB. And I’m an above-average user.

You can be sure that MTN has crunched the numbers over and over again to make sure the vast majority of its BlackBerry subscribers fit comfortably within this threshold. Why on earth would MTN deliberately move to anger valuable, profitably customers? If that threshold was closer to 250MB, MTN would’ve announced that.

200MB does ‘sound’ low, but the compression technology used by the BIS architecture (to slim down e-mails, web browsing and BBM) means the ‘truer’ (uncompressed) amount of data is probably three or four times the 200MB number.

The status quo with BIS remains on Vodacom, Cell C and 8.ta, for now. Those three are surely watching the reaction to this move by MTN very, very carefully. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another move to ‘fair usage’ in the next month or two.

BlackBerry Z10 demo unit - BlackBerry 10 launch Johannesburg

BlackBerry Z10 demo unit – BlackBerry 10 launch Johannesburg

(Obviously, the launch of the BlackBerry Z10 today has hastened this change. The new BlackBerry 10 platform doesn’t use the same BIS architecture that makes ‘unlimited’ possible).

On the whole, BlackBerry users are very profitable for carriers. In fact, I remember former CEO of Vodacom Pieter Uys telling me over a year ago that the average revenue per user on BlackBerry was higher than those users on ‘normal’ feature phones, even if you exclude the R59 per month BIS access. Of course, market dynamics could’ve changed, but on the whole, I don’t expect this has changed too much.

Given the massive installed base in South Africa, BlackBerry is not going to disappear overnight. While the BlackBerry Z10 is probably out of the price range of the majority of BlackBerry users, the company has announced it will continue innovating on the BlackBerry 7 platform. That means more devices, and improvements to the software. Expect the device maker to try as hard as possible to ensure those BlackBerry 7 users stick around, until it gets cheaper, more accessible BlackBerry 10 phones to market.

* Hilton Tarrant contributes to ‘Broadband’, a column on Moneyweb covering the ICT sector in South Africa. The world has changed, and it’s time to move on from BIS. Get used to it.

More BlackBerry articles

Bye bye BIS

BlackBerry offering confusion

New BlackBerry packages: what you need to know

New MTN BlackBerry Absolute package revealed

BlackBerry Internet Service capped on MTN

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