Hong Kong offers Asia’s first BlackBerry services

Hutchison Telecommunications (Hong Kong) Ltd. has launched Asia’s first commercial service using the BlackBerry wireless e-mail terminal after completing a successful two-month trial.

The service will use the Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) Blackberry device running over the Hutchison-owned Orange mobile network to give users e-mail, phone, SMS (Short Message Service), WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), Web and organizer features, the companies said in a statement Tuesday.

Operating on a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network upgraded with General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), the BlackBerry device, which looks like a large pager with a keyboard, offers always-on connections to corporate e-mail inboxes.

The partners plan to quickly extend the BlackBerry service to the Macau Special Administrative Region of China, and then to mainland China itself, according to the statement.

The service will use the BlackBerry 5820 Wireless Handheld device, which incorporates Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) as its core operating system. This creates a platform for the partners to develop innovative applications to run over Hutchison’s forthcoming third-generation (3G) networks, Hutchison officials said.

The BlackBerry Wireless Handheld will cost HK$1,880 (US$241) with a monthly charge of HK$738 for unlimited e-mail access, or HK$3,980 with a monthly charge of HK$538 for unlimited e-mail access, according to the statement.

The BlackBerry has proved popular with companies keen to give their employees access to e-mail while on the move. Over 13,200 companies in the U.S. and Canada have signed up to use BlackBerry since RIM launched it in 1999. Several hundred companies in western Europe have also signed up to use BlackBerry since its launch there in October last year, RIM has said.

Many Asian countries – both developed and developing IT markets – already have high mobile phone penetration, and Asians have proved to be comfortable with handheld devices providing data services such as SMS, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and particularly Japan’s I-mode mobile Internet service.

For example, figures from Philippines mobile operator Globe Telecom Inc. show that as early as 2000, it had 2.6 million subscribers generating 25 million SMS messages a month. Revenues from SMS increased almost 500 per cent in 2000 and accounted for 17 per cent of Globe’s wireless revenue, the company has said.