Around the time Industry Canada was announcing that Canadian cellular carriers had agreed to give it over $5 billion for spectrum came news that Facebook will write a cheque for US$19 billion for to buy the WhatsApp mobile messenger service.
Some wags immediately noted the implication is that applications are worth more than frequencies, which isn’t quite fair: The spectrum being auctioned could only be used in Canada, whereas WhatsApp can be used around the world by a tremendously larger market.
Aside from the WhatsApp founders and investors, my colleague Brian Jackson at ITBusiness.ca suggests that BlackBerry could be one of the big winners from the deal – not directly in terms of cash, but by people suddenly seeing the potential value of its BBM messenger service.
BlackBerry is trying to monetize everything it has, and BBM has great potential. BBM is used by 60 million subscribers to send text messages on its smart phones. Last May when I was at BlackBerry World the company announced it would be extended to the Android and iOS platforms. In addition, it was creating BBM Channels, which would let companies set up social networks within BBM to attract customers and supporters.
At the time, executives said they hadn’t figured out a way to monetize BBM, but that was the intent.
Nine months later and BlackBerry still hasn’t given birth to a way to wring money out of BBM. Messaging services aren’t easy to monetize. WhatsApp doesn’t allow advertising, but it does charge users $1 a year – and it has some 450 million users.
With that in mind, Jackson noted that BlackBerry’s stock went up on news of the WhatsApp deal.
So what’s doing at BlackBerry?