RIM: bumper BlackBerry harvest

Still in the Red

Wireless email pioneer Research In Motion brought some cheer to the deflated mobile computing sector when the company revised its sales forecast after unexpectedly strong growth in users of its BlackBerry service. Recent agreements with several wireless technology vendors look set to boost Research In Motion's revenues even further.

Waterloo, Ontario-based Research In Motion (RIM) said BlackBerry subscriptions increased 13% to 534,000 in the fourth quarter to March 1, 2003. This growth helped to push revenue for the period to $87.5 million, up 32% year on year, and 18% sequentially.

RIM has now revised its outlook for Q1 2004 from $85-$95 million to between $90-$100 million, citing "improved visibility" in its sales process. The company expects BlackBerry subscriptions in the period to increase a further 70,000 to 80,000 in the quarter. This would take total BlackBerry users over 600,000.

However, the company remains unprofitable and reported a net loss of $12.6 million in the fourth quarter, including a $6.9 million provision from its patent dispute with NTP. RIM was found by a court in Virginia to have violated five patents related to wireless email held by NTP, a holding company that holds the rights to technology developed in 1990 but never commercialized. RIM was ordered to pay NTP $23.1 million in compensation.

RIM itself has taken similar legal action against rival Good Technology. This now looks to be heading to court after a California court ordered one of its four lawsuits against Good to proceed toward trial last Thursday.

BlackBerry handheld devices made up the bulk of RIM's Q4 revenue, accounting for 46% of sales while service revenues made up a further 41%. The company said software license sales contributed 6% to sales while OEM radios and other revenues made up the remaining 7%.

This balance could be set to change as RIM's increasingly broad technology licensing strategy takes effect. In the last few months the company has reached agreement with a number of wireless technology vendors to support non-RIM devices on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, including handsets running Symbian OS and Windows Powered Smartphone terminals built by Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp. BlackBerry software will also appear shortly on the mobile Java (J2ME)-based Nokia 6800, a messaging-oriented handset featuring a novel flip-open qwerty keyboard.

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