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Nashua Mobile, Nokia, take on BlackBerry Internet

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Nashua Mobile has introduced a near-unlimited data package for selected Nokia phones that directly challenges the R59/month BlackBerry internet Service, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Nashua Mobile executive head of marketing Tim Walter this morning began addressing a press conference against the backdrop of flashing Internet and social media symbols, along with a “R59″” block, it was obvious what was coming next.

It was to be an answer to the question asked most often about mobile data access in South Africa: when will other phones be available with the equivalent of the BlackBerry Internet Service’s (BIS) almost unlimited Internet Access for R59 a month?

The answer was simple: today.

Walter announced that a range of Nokia smartphones and feature phones running on the Symbian S40 operating system would now be offered with the same package as the BlackBerry internet Service. This means that, for R59.00 a month, aside from normal contract charges, users of these phones will have unlimited browsing, social networking, instant messaging and e-mail.

As with BIS, fair use rules apply. This means that streaming media like YouTube and Skype is not included in the rate, and attempts to use it as a wireless hotspot will be blocked. Walter also pointed out that, while there was no hard cap or limit to file size, Nashua Mobile recommended that attachments and downloads be restricted to 1MB file. Users downloading larger files would be added to a watchlist which would flag very heavy usage. Walter didn’t specify what would constitute such usage, but continual downloads of large files throughout the day would trigger the alarm.

The purpose of such packages was clear, said Walter: “”The predictable and fixed monthly cost removes the uncertainty associated with other data rate plans and eliminates the chance of ‚bill shock’.””

The data package is called Xtreme Data and is available for the Nokia X2-01 and Nokia C3 phones, which use the Series 40 platform, and the Nokia N8, Nokia E5 and Nokia E7 smartphones. Nashua Mobile MD Chris Radley said it would in the near future be extended to other smartphones, including the Windows Phone, iOS and Android platforms. This implied that Samsungs’ smartphones and the Apple iPhone could be included before long.

Said Radley, ‚The cost of data usage has been one of the most significant barriers to wider use of smartphones for Web access and other online applications. With our new offering, we hope to make the mobile Web accessible and affordable to a wider range of smartphone users.‚

The Nokia Lumia 800, released in South Africa last month, is being trialled for the service, and may well become the first Windows Phone to come with the Xtreme data package.

‚Fixed cost is a clear consumer trend in South Africa, and Nokia have been working with operators and service provider’s to provide true competition in the market for some time now,‚ said Colin Baumgart, Nokia’s General Manager in South Africa. ‚We have a wide range of supported devices which we hope to grow further, fitting perfectly with a key pillar of Nokia’s strategy which is bringing Internet to the next billion consumers.‚

Nashua Mobile issued a statement today clarifying the way the service bypasses network operators’ data billing: “”The new service works by routing data from the handset to Nashua Mobile’s shared GSM data access point names (APNs) from Vodacom and MTN. Web access is controlled and managed intelligently by Nashua Mobile’s infrastructure partners, giving the customer a seamless experience that will enable all of their communication, social networking and information.””

Radley made it clear that the service was intended to offer an alternative to BIS and its limiting customers to a single brand:

‚No longer will you be restricted to only one manufacturer’s handsets if you want the peace of mind of an affordable fixed rate for your smartphone data usage,‚ he said. ‚Whichever platform you prefer, you will be able to fully enjoy your smartphone’s features without worrying about receiving an enormous bill at the end of the month.‚

The deal is available on existing and new contracts for Vodacom and MTN customers who use Nashua Mobile as their service provider. It will not be available to pre-paid users.

The direct challenge to the R59 per month BIS service goes beyond pricing: it takes the onus of providing such services away from the networks and puts them in the hands of device manufacturers and service providers. This overcomes a major frustration to BlackBerry’s competitors, who have been unable to persuade the networks to offer similar deals on their devices.

It also means that, should the networks decide to drop the R59 package arrangement with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, it will instantly lose its core competitive advantage to those players who have introduced it indirectly. On the other hand, it gives the networks an easy way out of providing such packages, which they have long complained clogs up their networks.

The big winner, initially, is Nashua Mobile, which will be able offer the BlackBerry-type deal on a wider range of phones, and attract those customers who want the deal, but not the brand. Expect other service providers to follow suit.

* Follow Arthur on Twitter on @gadgetza

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