Blackberry Madness in the ME

By: Sherief Ahmed

Blackberry’s or if you will, crackberry’s, haven’t had the smoothest ride in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Why would anyone have a problem with such a useful device? And why not have problems with other smart phones that can access the web?  The answer is very simple: security.  Different from other smartphones, the blackberry has a high level of encryption which transmits data directly to Research In Motion (RIM) servers.  Unfortunately, security measures always come as a double edge sword.

So then the question is: how much of our daily messaging is being monitored?  This isn’t only practiced in the Middle East, but almost by all country’s where telecommunication is widely used.  Blackberry’s messaging and data on the other hand cannot be monitored because of the encryption and the way it transmits to the RIM servers in Canada.  If a government feels that it needs to know all conversations, then it’s understandable to see why blackberry’s give them an uneasy feeling.  To make matters worse, the attacks in Mumbai a couple of years ago were said to be coordinated with blackberry messaging.  Although a nation’s security is of importance, a country like Saudi Arabia can suffer greatly.

Over the past few months we have seen a similar potential ban in the UAE and having a city-state like Dubai which has a renown reputation as a business-friendly environment, complete with several economic free zones and a convenient central location.  With so many multinational companies investing in Dubai and most of them relying on blackberry’s, a ban would have caused a negative effect on business in the region.  Blackberry’s are reputable for offering reliable and secure communication which a lot of businesses find very attractive, especially with confidential information at risk.

Just exactly, how important is a blackberry in the region?  According to recent reports, there are 500,000 subscribers in the UAE.  Another Muslim country, which is still facing this decision, is Saudi Arabia, which has 700,000 subscribers.  Saudi Arabia has been threatening a ban on some blackberry services, but has lifted the ban temporarily after RIM successfully completed part of the regulatory requirements.

UAE was planning on a complete ban on October 11, 2010, but officials decided not to ban blackberry services and The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority made a new partnership with RIM and telecom operators Etisalat.  The partnership is made to bringing more localized content and applications to the blackberry platform in the Middle East, which most likely would mean RIM servers are local instead of in Canada. Saudi Arabia is still in discussion with RIM on a permanent solution, and hopefully it will lead to more localized servers.

As technology is running our lives more and more, the need for local solutions becomes very important.  The Middle East has companies like Etisalat, which are very powerful and capable of creating a large market worldwide.  For the future, when conducting business with foreign nations there should be contracts with local companies to ensure the local laws and security needed in the region is controlled.  The blackberry ban should be a wake up call, because if no agreement were reached, a lot of people would have suffered from it.



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