BlackBerry chief sees vast horizons in UAE market

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2010 7:34 AM
BlackBerry chief sees vast horizons in UAE market

The company that makes the BlackBerry sees vast high-tech opportunities in the United Arab Emirates after a brush with regulators who sought to ban some key features of the smart phone, a top executive said Monday.

The upbeat assessments by Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd., is part of a corporate charm offensive after a deal with UAE authorities who wanted to shut down e-mail, messaging and web services because of security worries. But he offered no details of the talks that led the UAE to back off an Oct. 11 deadline to sharply curb the BlackBerry's popular functions.

"This is a market we're so excited about," Balsillie said during a keynote speech at a Dubai consumer electronics show, praising the role technology plays in the Emirates. He spoke repeatedly of the UAE's prospects to become a global leader in telecommunications and information technology.

Balsillie took no questions from the audience or reporters.

RIM has remained silent about what kind of deal it struck with the UAE. Emirati authorities had objected to the way BlackBerry data is encrypted and routed through overseas servers. Regulators said it could pose threats to national security by allowing terrorists or others to communicate in secret.

Canada-based RIM has faced similar questions from telecommunication regulators in major emerging markets such as Saudi Arabia and India.

Mohamed al-Ghanim, director general of the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, reiterated Monday that Blackberry is now "in compliance" with local rules, but gave no other details.

He also declined to confirm whether there was any judicial oversight on possible government access to users' data or whether UAE regulators had gained access to the secret codes RIM uses to encrypt BlackBerry data.

Balsillie has previously said RIM has no way of providing government officials with the text of encrypted corporate e-mails sent on its phones, but that it won't object if individual companies hand over their encryption keys to authorities.

Free-speech advocates and other critics opposed the crackdown, saying demands for greater access to the phones gave authorities an excuse to more closely monitor the flow of information. Censors in the Emirates patrol the Internet for pornography and other content they deem objectionable.

Although the UAE is a relatively small market for RIM, its BlackBerry devices play an outsized role in the affluent and highly wired nation that serves as one of the region's business and transportation hubs.

At least 500,000 UAE residents use a BlackBerry, as do many travelers who visit the country on business or holiday. Dubai's airport, the region's busiest, handles 100,000 passengers on an average day.

Balsillie announced a series of initiatives with the Emirates, including efforts to set up e-government services such as online access to permits and bill payment services. He also said RIM may offer seed capital to promising Emirati entrepreneurs and provide training programs to local universities.

In addition, Balsillie announced the regional launch of a number of BlackBerry products and services, including an Arabic-language application service, the new BlackBerry 6 operating system and the BlackBerry Torch, the company's latest phone.