It has a booming economy, attracts international business, and its population uses cell phones more than most other countries in the world. No, it’s not China — it’s the United Arab Emirates.
Now the mobile phone market in this Middle Eastern country will be turned on its head with the announcement that the UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority is banning the popular BlackBerry phone from usage as of October — and that includes visitors to the UAE.
The decision effectively shuts down BlackBerry’s service within the country’s borders and “puts the federation’s reputation as a business-friendly commercial and tourism hub at risk,” according to MSNBC.[more]
The reason for the ban, say UAE regulators, is that the lack of compliance with local laws of BlackBerry devices raises “judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE.” BlackBerry phones are being targeted because only they use overseas servers to receive users’ data automatically. According to MSNBC, an official in neighboring Saudi Arabia said that country would likely block BlackBerry’s messaging service as well. Other countries, including Bahrain and India, have stopped shy of blocking BlackBerry services but have expressed concerns.
About a year ago, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) objected to the UAE’s requirement that users within the country needed a software upgrade. RIM claimed at the time that the update “was in fact spy software that could allow outsiders to access private information stored on the phones.” Simon Simonian, a telecommunications analyst at Shuaa Capital in the UAE, sees the irony in the situation: “These same security features [of Blackberry phones] corporations like have become an issue of national security for the government.”
The ban will be a temporary inconvenience for international travelers passing through Dubai, the Middle East’s busiest airport – but for UAE citizens it will likely be a permanent way of life.
Some of the country’s cell phone merchants wonder if there was an economic motivation. Cheap Chinese phones have flooded the market, and such brands as Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson have been forced to cut prices as they lost market share.
The BlackBerry ban might actually help the situation because it removes one strong competitor from the mix. Jalal Rasheed, manager of AMT, Abu Dhabi’s largest wholesale mobile phone store, tells Zawya, “I think this decision to suspend BlackBerry services will give a shot in the arm to our business.”