Is Investing in Research in Motion a Bet Against the Internet?

Mar. 6.07 | About: BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY)

Marty Algire just drew the following December comment of his to my attention. Provocative and savvy stuff, doubly so with Research In Motion (RIMM) in the news for its option-related restatement.

And as a Gmail mobile user, which, for my practical purposes, has already disintermediated RIM, I buy the thesis -- but timing is a bear. These things have a tendency to take far longer than you think, even if once broken they then fall apart quickly:

I recently met with a tech analyst who going on about how awesome RIM was and how they use all this proprietary firmware and he sees their market cap going towards 40B [CDN] in '07.

That got me thinking about RIM's technology. RIM's core technological investment is in turning mobile GSM/CDMA/TDMA/etc... networks that were designed primarily for voice to work more like the Internet so other types of data can be sent over them, e.g. email. They completely nailed this. But there is a lot of expensive overhead to keep this working, e.g. synchronization servers at each corporate customer, and a multi-acre data center in Waterloo to re-route messages to wireless carriers.

However, those voice based networks are going away. They're being replaced by wireless networks (licensed and unlicensed spectrums) that natively support IP applications. There will be no more need to overlay RIM's technology on top.

Some early signs of this trend:

- Several startups are working on Skype over mobile wireless networks. This is a bellwether, the 'voice' part of the network is clearly going away when users start using voice applications on data networks (as per VOIP trends on wireline networks).

- Web based email providers like Gmail are already providing mobile versions of their web interface. Corporate users can access their corporate email via Outlook Web Access Light (just like you use OWA on your PC when you can't get VPN, OWA Light is a web interface better suited to mobile handsets). These web interfaces provide a great user experience, and offer the lowest possible cost to implement.

Within 3 years the analysts will be heckling RIM for the costs of supporting a legacy technology and no differentiation against web based applications over standard data networks.

As Eric Schmidt said at Web 2.0 "we have a saying around Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) - don't bet against the Internet".

Investing in RIM is a bet against the Internet.