Progress made for the BlackBerry in Japan

by Norman Monroe

International movers Allied Pickfords, since rolling into Tokyo twenty years ago, has emerged as one of the top moving companies in Japan. It’s success, both here and in the many countries worldwide, rest on its commitment to do whatever it takes to make sure that your household goods are delivered, even if it means first taking it apart. But more of that later.

The company boasts three global head offices, in Chicago, the UK, and Australia, and operates in over 40 countries, with offices in over 800 cities worldwide. With that kind of reach, it is well able to ship your household items or company furniture and fittings to all parts of the globe, which is just as well in Japan, where it mostly serves the expatriate community.

The BlackBerry, long championed by executive road warriors, flourishes in dozens of countries. Indeed, many users regard their BlackBerries as being of only marginally less importance than their wives or significant others, such is the level of dependence that they develop on the gadgets. However, in Japan, they are still thin on the ground. And no, it is not quite a case of carrying coals to a very cellphone-saturated Newcastle. BlackBerries offer several features other than just telephony and the usual text messaging, web browsing, calendar services, and the like that people, particularly folks in this country, have come to accept as the norm.

What sets the BlackBerry apart is the unmatched level of security that it offers to busy executives wishing to keep their high rolling deals as secure as is technologically possible, a level of security that the experts say cannot be matched by regular cellphones. Suffice it to say that data sent by regular cellphones, whether voice or text, can be intercepted and snatched from the ether using equipment armed with the right software. Not so with the BlackBerry. And should you lose your BlackBerry the data contained on it can be removed from it remotely.

The quality of its features can’t be faulted, but the limited usage here stems from the fact that the technology is not home-grown, having been developed by the Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. According to Takashi Matsui, Rim Japan’s Channel Marketing Manager, a number of firms have expressed interest in BlackBerry systems. The take-up rate, however, has been limited, so far, as technical problems, caused mainly by the fact that the BlackBerry’s GSM based-system clashes with local CDMA-based mobile networks, restrict the reach of the BlackBerry mail server, to only 30-40% of the country. The company is trying to find ways around the problem.

Matsui notes that companies have also been proceeding cautiously, taking their time to completely understand, especially, the security features before deciding to invest in the relatively inexpensive system. “Most Japanese companies [still] don’t know about it and they are still cautious about using it [asking questions like] “secure systems? What kind of secure?” We have to explain all [these] things and the [technical] environment”, Matsui said.

RIM Japan, working with cellphone providers DoComo, has, since 2006, been seeking to crack the Japanese market, entreating corporate entities such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup to invest in BlackBerry systems for their executives. Initially, only multi-national companies operating in Japan were targeted because, back then, the models available only had English-language functions. Since last year however, models with Japanese language menus have become available and RIM has expanded its marketing thrust to include major Japanese firms like Nomura Securities, and U.S. military personnel, who would be familiar with BlackBerries from home, have also been targeted.

The individual consumer market, however, is not yet in the crosshairs, due no doubt, to the technical limitations. “We are focusing, right now, on the corporate market, and the enterprise market, not on the consumer market,” says Morihito Kobayashi, RIM Japan’s manager for Product Mangement and Marketing. Until the technical issues are sorted out, however, it seems that it will be slow going for a while yet for the BlackBerry in Japan.

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