GSM network Airtel Nigeria has introduced a new dimension to the competition in the BlackBerry subscriber market in Nigeria. Airtel is currently advertising a new bundle for ‘BlackBerry’ smart phone users.
Labelled ‘BConnected’ the bundle offers ‘BlackBerry Messenger’ a real time messaging and chat service as well as access to social networks, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. It also offers access to monthly, weekly or daily plans on the expiration of a 30 day free trial period.
The bundle is priced at N1,580 monthly and excludes e-mail services which most other BlackBerry services include. The selling point however is the N1,580 which is significantly less that the cost of the standard service which includes e-mail services. The said standard service is priced at between N2,800 and N3,000 by the various networks, including Airtel.
Industry watchers perceive that by its latest offering, Airtel is targeting the over 600,000 GSM subscribers in Nigeria who use the BlackBerry device but do not subscribe to the unique BlackBerry service. It is thought that many of the 600,000 don’t subscribe because the full BlacBerry package is priced above their heads.
Business Day investigations reveal that there are about 925,000 active BlackBerry handsets on Nigeria’s four GSM networks: MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat but that of these, only about 300,000 subscribe to the unique services.
BlackBerry is a line of mobile e-mail and smartphone devices developed and designed by Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM) since 1999..
BlackBerry phones function as a personal digital assistant and portable media player. They are primarily known for their ability to send and receive (push) Internet e-mail wherever mobile network service coverage is present, or through Wi-Fi connectivity. They support a large array of instant messaging features, including BlackBerry Messenger.
BlackBerry commands a 14.8% share of worldwide smartphone sales, making it the fifth most popular device manufacturer after Nokia, Samsung, LG, and Apple. The consumer BlackBerry Internet Service is available in 91 countries worldwide on over 500 mobile service operators using various mobile technologies.
Market watchers say the BlackBerry’s popularity is because of its large array of messaging features and instant access to e-mail and social and business networks.
Months back, Nigerian GSM networks dropped their BlackBerry charges from about N5,000 to about N3,000.
In a related development accredited sellers of Blackberry smartphones in Nigeria are engaged in a pitted battle with the grey (unofficial) market sellers of the device, who are threatening their business.
The grey market operators tend to sell unauthorised products which come mostly from Asia, as well as second hand products which come from Europe and the US.
The attraction for the greymarket operators is that their prices are significantly lower than the prices of the authorised channels. They sometimes sell at less than half the prices of the authorised products.
The disadvantage of the grey market is that their products don’t come with warranties and are usually not as reliable or durable.
Market watchers say though, that because Nigeria is a low income environment, there is a special attraction for greymarket products, with all the problems they portend.
To prevent the grey market from doing too much damage to the authorised channels. ‘Research In Motion’ (RIM) makers of the BlackBerry devise has unleashed an advertising campaign on the market.
In the advert which is currently running in the print media, RIM advises buyers to :”Always look for the seal of authenticity whenyou buy a new BlackBerry device”.
The company adds that :”This guarantees that you are buying from an authorised dealer and that your new BlackBerry device comes with the peace of mind of a 12 month warranty”.
The grey market operators are fighting back with newpaper adverts too. For them, the selling point is price.
One grey market outlet that sells second hand BlackBerry devices in Lagos, advertised half the prices of new and authorised products.
Market watchers say every market serves a purpose. The authorised channels serve the corporate market which has the resources and is particular about authenticity and warrantees, while the grey market services the lower end market, particularly undergraduates and other students who could otherwise not afford the BlackBerry.