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  • 10.20.10

RIM Parlays Near BlackBerry Ban Into UAE Government Partnership

Research In Motion just landed a deal to bring advanced egovernment services to the United Arab Emirates, just days after the end of a highly public spat between RIM and the Emiratis. What changed?

Research In Motion (RIM), threatened just a few weeks ago with being banned from the United Arab Emirates, has just landed a
deal to bring the UAE advanced egovernment services.

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While there’s no provable direct link or proof that RIM gave government snoops a backdoor to its private data, the announcement comes just days after the end of a highly
public spat between RIM and the Emiratis. The deal is a complete 180 from the UAE’s prior threat to cut off BlackBerry service Oct. 11 if RIM didn’t give over access to its encrypted server information. Both
RIM and the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA)
reached a last-minute agreement to keep access in Dubai and elsewhere
going; the terms of the agreement have still not been disclosed.

As a bonus to the egovernment services deal, the UAE gets to have a hand in developing smartphone apps for the entire Middle
East—a very lucky tender for any government indeed.

The announcement was delivered during a keynote speach by RIM co-CEO Balsillie at Dubai’s GITEX
(Gulf Information Technology Exhibition), one of the largest gadget shows in the world. Held every autumn, the convention
serves as a main tech hub for the Middle East, North Africa,
and South Asia. In 2009, Microsoft launched Windows 7 for the first
time at GITEX. This year, it was RIM’s turn to shine and Balsillie showed
off their new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet in detail
.

But the most interesting aspects of
Balsillie’s presentation wasn’t the details of the BlackBerry PlayBook (admittedly
cool–16, 32, and 64GB versions, heavy duty 5300 mAH battery, and more). Rather, it’s that RIM has inked
a large-scale egovernment service deal
with the
Emirati government—a deal so detailed it would have required
endless hours of overtime to create in the time frame between Oct.
9 (when RIM and the TRA announced their deal) and the Oct. 18 keynote.

“I am
delighted to announce a very special relationship with the TRA and
Blackberry with Du
and Etisalat
[…] We are going to be releasing a partnership on applications on
egovernment and also specialized consumer services, as well as
mobilizing enterprise services for the Middle East,” Balsillie said in his announcement. “One of the things
we are working on is advanced egovernment services and as you know,
there is a new wave of technical innovation going on with mobility
from the Internet and this is an enormous opportunity for governments
to really leap-frog to future kinds of services.”

Du and Etisalat are two of the largest
telecommunications firms in Dubai and the Emirates. In the speech,
Balsillie gave the egovernment program’s details—which were
seconded in RIM’s press statement. The statement promises a strategic
partnership between RIM, the TRA, Etisalat and Du to “support the
TRA’s mandate to encourage, promote, and develop the
telecommunications and information technology industry in the UAE and
across the region” and “more localized content and applications
to the BlackBerry platform in the Middle East.” A secure ebanking
solution will be introduced on Middle Eastern BlackBerrys and
assistance will be provided on implementing the BlackBerry
Academic Program
initiative at several Emirati
universities.

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Unsurprisingly, the TRA is now singing
a much different tune about Blackberry. While the Emirati regulatory
agency was accusing
RIM of
“causing judicial, social and national security concerns
in the UAE” just a few months ago, their official line is much different now. Promotional
materials sent by RIM on the agreement quote TRA chairman Mohamad Bin
Ahmad Al-Qamzi as saying, “This collaboration demonstrates the TRA’s
commitment to sustain technological leadership in egovernment through
mobile services designed to better serve citizens throughout the
region. BlackBerry smartphones are the leading mobile communications
tool in the Middle East and are increasingly adopted by our citizens
for their powerful messaging and multimedia capabilities. For this
reason, the TRA believe this initiative will help to encourage,
promote, and develop more public interaction and involvement between
the government and the citizens and residents through the BlackBerry
platform.”

The specifics of the RIM-UAE
egovernment services to be provided remain unclear. According to
arabianbusiness.com
and the Gulf
News
, they include epayment options for
Dubai Electricity & Water Authority customers. But educated
guesses can be made thanks to other announcements made at GITEX.
Ahmed Bin Humaidan of the Dubai
eGovernment Department
(yes, there is one),
gave a long
presentation on new initiatives
. Etisalat,
meanwhile, is in talks to develop a cross-platform
app with the Dubai Roads & Transport Authority

to let users find parking lots, make parking payments and pay parking
tickets/fees via their BlackBerry or iPhone.

Interestingly, Balsillie’s speech
focused on their plans for the Middle East at large rather than Dubai
or the UAE in particular. Specifically, BlackBerry App World and
BlackBerry WebWorks will also be launched in the Middle East, along
with region-specific ebanking services.

Balsillie made no reference to RIM’s
recent trouble with the Emirati government during his presentation
and, according to attendees, did not speak to reporters after his
speech. TRA director general Mohammed al-Ghanem refused
to comment
on whether RIM placed a server in
the Emirates. Other speakers at GITEX included Facebook’s Randi
Zuckerberg and Creative Commons CEO Joi Ito.

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