RIM: Looking Over the Wrong Shoulder?

There have been plenty of stories detailing why Research In Motion says it’s not afraid of Microsoft in the mobile e-mail space. While it’s true that RIM probably shouldn’t fear MS too much, there are plenty of other companies it should fear — not the least of which are its carrier partners.

The threat from Microsoft is pretty simple on its face: a recent upgrade to some of its Exchange server software added push e-mail capability, meaning that a Blackberry server acting as a go-between from a corporate Exchange server to its users’ mobile devices isn’t necessary. But it’s really a little more complex. Not every enterprise uses Exchange, and of those that do, not all use the version that supports push e-mail. RIM, with good reason, shouldn’t be too scared of Microsoft.

But it’s the emerging rivals over its other shoulder it should be worried about, led by mobile operators. Without a doubt, those that sell Blackberries are happy with the increased data spending they bring. But they don’t like having to give RIM a decent chunk of change for every Blackberry subscriber, and also don’t like having their users locked in to a relatively small range of devices.

Check out the breakdown of Vodafone UK’s new business e-mail offering that uses technology from Visto. It’s cheaper for enterprises, supports a wider range of devices, and even uses less data than Blackberry. Vodafone’s giving up some data traffic revenue in exchange for (presumably) paying out less to Visto than it does to Blackberry, and also hoping for some price elasticity in that lower prices will lead to more customers. Vodafone’s also bundled in a hosted low-cost device management system that should be simpler for IT departments to handle than the similar Blackberry solution.

So how does RIM compete with Microsoft’s low price? By offering a better service. But how are these new rivals competing with RIM? By offering a better service, and a better price. That, not Microsoft, is what RIM should be scared of.

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