BEIJING // BlackBerry users in China have been able to access the internet and e-mail freely with the devices since 2008, although analysts say they have not proved popular. The launch was delayed by two years, though, because of concerns over security similar to those now being expressed in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes the BlackBerry, is believed to have reached a deal that lets the Chinese authorities monitor traffic.
In China, as in other countries such as the United States, authorities are keen to avoid the potential for confidential information transmitted using a BlackBerry to be intercepted. Indeed, according to Ning Liu, a telecommunications specialist with BDA (China), such issues mean that civil servants "in many government agencies" in the country are not permitted to use the devices. "The BlackBerry needs to communicate with a server outside China, so I think many government agencies are concerned about that," he said.
The devices were initially made available in 2008 through China Mobile. In May this year, China Telecom followed suit. Their use in China comes amid tight controls over the use of the internet, with the central authorities imposing their own "firewall" to restrict access to certain sites, and as of September last year requiring internet café customers to present proof of identity when logging on. One Hong Kong-based telecommunications analyst, who asked not to be named, said security issues with the BlackBerry were not "a major concern" in China. BlackBerry was "not popular in China so far", partly because of much higher monthly fees compared with alternative devices, he added.
"They set a very high entry barrier, [restricting the device to] very high-end subscribers," he said. Peter Lu, the managing partner of China IntelliConsulting, agreed that BlackBerry had not proved successful in China. "It may not be as popular as in other countries because in China internet users do not as frequently e-mail with each other," he said. Demand in China was particularly poor because most corporate customers for the BlackBerry in the country ran the devices through Singapore, said Jessica Lo, a managing director of the China Market Research Group.