Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- It is expected to be settled one way or the other in Saudi Arabia today: either the continuation of ‘BlackBerry’ instant messaging, or its cessation. After the latest Saudi announcement to ban the service, a major escalation [in negotiations] has occurred over the past few days, between the Canadian hardware manufacturer ‘Research in Motion’ (RIM), and the Saudi Communications Commission, as a result of RIM’s failure to meet the demands of the regulatory authority.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia announced the suspension of BlackBerry phone services last week, yet the Saudi Communications Commission has temporarily reversed its decision to stop the service, for a period of 48 hours, ending today. This step was taken in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s desire to continue negotiations with the Canadian company before cutting the service permanently, and these negotiations will be concluded today.
Informed sources, from one of the three telecommunications companies operating the service, told ‘Asharq al-Awsat’ that there are positive signs of reaching an agreement satisfactory to both parties, the Communications Commission and RIM. This agreement is due to be announced in the next few hours. While senior officials in the Communications and Information Technology Commission apologized to ‘Asharq al-Awsat’, for not being able to make any further comments about the ongoing negotiations, or even give their opinions on it, sources indicated that meetings took place yesterday in order to find an appropriate solution before the end of the grace period.
For his part, Abdul Rahman Mazi, a Saudi specialist in the field of communications, felt that it was RIM’s duty to commit to the security and regulatory requirements of Saudi Arabia and other countries, either by granting those states their own servers, or by allowing every country to have its own server, thus enabling them to access data about their users if required.
Mazi stressed the importance of RIM being committed to two primary factors, namely the security and regulatory requirements of each country, whilst also ensuring the confidentiality of users’ personal information.
Regarding the current negotiations between the Saudi Committee, consisting of the Communications and Information Technology Commission, and three service provider companies (Saudi Telecom Company, Mobily and Zain Saudi Arabia), Mazi noted that “the negotiations must have reached an advanced stage”, thus indicating that discussions began months ago. However RIM has not responded to the demands of Saudi Arabia so far, and “this matter prompted Saudi Arabia to announce a ban on instant messaging, leading to an escalation of the issue during the last few days.”
Mazi said that the negotiators have three solutions in front of them to safeguard the future of the instant messaging service [BB Messenger]. Firstly, the company could grant the Saudi Communications Commission private access to its server [in Canada], to ensure it has control over all its data and information. Secondly, it could provide Saudi Arabia with its own private server, allowing the state to verify and control [information] when needed. Finally, the Saudi Communications Commission could seek the services of another company to decode the encrypted data.
The sources revealed a [Saudi Communications Commission] initiative to find alternatives to the instant messaging feature ‘BlackBerry Messenger’, by identifying programmes that use the internet to transfer messages and data between participants. However, the sources pointed out that those programmes will not be able to achieve the speeds of BlackBerry’s exclusive messenger service.
Blackberry uses an advanced triple-encryption feature, which can not be penetrated by service providers, and is linked only to the Canadian company’s electronic server. RIM is working with Saudi telecommunications companies to find appropriate solutions and proposals, in order to provide the service in the Kingdom, which has an estimated 700,000 subscribers.
The market price of a BlackBerry phone is expected to decline in the Kingdom, due to the suspension of the instant messenger service, which is one of the main reasons for using the device. The service benefits from an almost instant data exchange, as the BlackBerry network is the fastest to transfer data to and from its users, even e-mails, via the permanent connection of all devices within the network.
Prices have fluctuated over the past two days, especially with the announcement of the Communications and Information Technology Commission to stop the service on Friday. This prompted a number of participants to dispose of the device, only to return to it after reports of continued service. Finally, the telecommunications providers were given 48 hours to find solutions with the Canadian company.