Research in Motion still has a long road ahead of it

Berthold Stadler/AP - In this Nov. 8, 2011, file photo, a Blackberry employee holds a mobile phone of Blackberry in Berlin.

Research in Motion illustrated Thursday that its fate depends on the performance of its next operating system, BlackBerry 10. Investors made it clear they will have little patience with the company if it doesn’t live up to expectations.

RIM reported better than expected revenue, sending its stock up in after-hours trading. But comments from chief executive Thorsten Heins saying that the company was planning to eliminate service fees for some new customers sent the stock back down — and quickly. Ahead of the market’s open Friday, RIM shares were trading at $12.33 after closing at $14.12 on Thursday.

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Heins said that RIM will continue to charge the fee to those who want enhanced services, such as advanced security, but that consumers or businesses that don't want the extra services are expected to generate “less or no service revenue.”

Service fees made up 36 percent of the company’s revenue in the third quarter, or nearly $9.8 million. It was the second-largest source of revenue for the company, after hardware.

In an analyst note Thursday morning, Macquerie Securities analyst Kevin Smithen said he believes Heins’s comments were “taken slightly out of context.”

“BB10 service pricing plans are currently being negotiated with carriers and customers, so even the company has limited visibility at this time,” Smithen said. Service fees in North America are likely to decline once consumers and businesses get their hands on new devices, he said. But Smithen said he believes that BlackBerry 7 customers overseas won’t be as eager to change their plans, and will “erode far less quickly” than in the United States and Canada. He also said that RIM may make up some North American losses by introducing management fees for customers with multiple devices, such as businesses.

Investors are clearly nervous about RIM’s indication that it will tinker with such a large revenue source when it’s clear the new system’s performance will make or break the company. The smartphone maker also reported its first-ever loss in subscribers — from 80 million to 79 million in a quarter — saying that the expectation of its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 system was likely causing some to “defer purchasing decisions and wait” for the new devices. BlackBerry 10’s launch has been delayed for nearly two years.

RIM is still projecting a loss for the fourth quarter as BlackBerry 10 gets on its feet, citing marketing and other costs.

The company is preparing for the global debut of BlackBerry 10 on Jan. 30 and is already working with more than 150 carriers worldwide. It’s also focusing on maintaining and growing its core government and business customers ahead of the launch. In addition to receiving government security certification last month, the company also said it’s testing the business version of the system in 64 Fortune 500 companies.

 
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