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'Prepaid customers our thrust area in India'

October 28, 2010 11:44 IST
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Frenny BawaFor Research in Motion, the maker of the popular BlackBerry smartphone, India continues to be a hotbed for its devices.

While the brand is facing stiff competition from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform in the consumer market and is likely to come face to face with renewed competition in the enterprise market from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 in early 2011, Frenny Bawa, managing director, RIM India, is confident of staying ahead of the pack.

She tells Priyanka Joshi how the company intends to grow its scale and size in India. Edited excerpts:

With RIM caught in a security standoff with the Indian government, can you comment on what steps the company will take in the near future to safeguard its position in India?

Details of any regulatory discussions between RIM and the Government of India are confidential, but RIM can confirm that discussions continue to be constructive and it remains optimistic that a positive outcome can be achieved.

And while I cannot comment on what solutions we are working on with the Indian government, I can tell you that installing a server in India does not solve any problem for BlackBerry, if you know anything of our technology.

Two years back, we did manage to address the government's security concerns and we will do so now too. RIM is a reliable, secure email platform and enjoys a reasonably loyal installed base globally.

What's the next focus area for RIM in India?

RIM India has saw good sales of devices like BlackBerry Pearl, Curve and then Storm. But there is a large BlackBerry user community in India that does not own a data plan.

Historically, we haven't had any entry-level data packs, but a small step has been taken with Vodafone India, which is now offering its BlackBerry prepaid customers data plans at Rs 15 a day.

While we may have begun with post-paid customers here, it is the prepaid customer who will be the main thrust area for us.

And what excites me the most in this market is the access to prepaid customers along with our telecom partners.

We will continue to work with our partners and roll out ATL and BTL activities to promote our pre-paid offerings.

With India's smartphone market expected to grow at a much faster rate than the global 45 per cent growth rate that analysts are predicting, we have to make sure that the right mix of applications and devices is delivered to fight the smartphone battle.

How fast have you been able to grow your distribution in India and tie-ups with operator partners before 3G services are rolled out?

Retail distribution has been instrumental in increasing BlackBerry smartphones' presence in India. RIM appointed Redington India as its retail distribution partner in January 2009.

While we started with nine cities, today our BlackBerry smartphones are available at thousands of customer touchpoints across 70 cities in India.

RIM recently launched its experience zones in Delhi and Mumbai, which will be expanded across cities soon.

The experience zones allow both existing and potential BlackBerry users to have a first brand experience of RIM's product offerings.

BlackBerry services can be used through leading mobile service providers in India, including Airtel, Vodafone Essar, BSNL, MTNL, Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communications, Loop Mobile, Aircel and Idea Cellular.

Keeping in mind the needs of Indian consumers, we have introduced a wide range of BlackBerry smartphones, data services and locally relevant applications that appeal to corporations and individual consumers.

The launch of prepaid BlackBerry services on GSM and CDMA networks has also made BlackBerry services more approachable and popular.

Are there any plans to revitalise the online sales channels?

We continue to evaluate how to channelise the online store support in India (that allows users to buy devices off the web) that we have in other geographies.

With the launch of BlackBerry Torch in India, RIM has taken the total count of smartphones to nine models. How do you think it compares with the competition -- both in the consumer and enterprise smartphone segments?

We have been trying to shorten the window between our global and India launches. That's why we were able to get BlackBerry Torch in India within two months of its global launch.

It reiterates our confidence for hi-end smartphones in markets like India.

The device is priced at Rs 35,000 but we believe this will be a great sales driver for us in both the consumer and enterprise segments.

It is the first smartphone with both a BlackBerry keyboard and full touch screen built over the new BlackBerry 6 operating system.

The BlackBerry Torch is also the first BlackBerry smartphone to ship with our new web browser and we invested a substantial amount of time and effort to engineer a webkit-based browser that can operate efficiently.

Image: Frenny Bawa

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