BlackBerry’s wryly jovial CEO Thorsten Heins spent quite a bit of time talking up the new mid-range Q5 at this morning’s BlackBerry Live keynote address, but the folks in Waterloo may be working on a follow-up smartphone that’s staggeringly different from the one we saw today.
According to a report from KnowYourMobile, the struggling Canadian company is working an all-touch BlackBerry smartphone with a 5-inch display. KnowYourMobile’s Richard Goodwin goes on to note that the device is currently in testing being tested at by unnamed Canadian wireless carrier, and the anonymous tester providing the info pointed out that the device would make its official debut within the next few months.
For what it’s worth, Jefferies’ analyst Peter Misek foretold of a 5-inch BlackBerry 10 device last month, but his track record with this sort of thing isn’t exactly sterling. It should go without saying that you should be taking all of this with a mighty big grain of salt, but it’s an intriguing notion to consider.
I mean, let’s assume for a moment that this report is accurate and that such a device really is being worked on behind closed doors — it’d be quite a bold move on BlackBerry’s part. It’s not hard to see that a considerable chunk of people have embraced large form factor smartphones, and it’s possible that BlackBerry wants to cash in on that consumer fervor. Then again, this whole thing is just loaded with question marks that could trip BlackBerry up as it works to reverse its fortunes.
By embracing so many form factors so quickly, BlackBerry runs the risk of alienating users who have perhaps prematurely pulled the trigger on an earlier model. It doesn’t help that there’s plenty of competition in the hefty smartphone space, either. Samsung is leading that particular pack with Android-powered devices like the Galaxy Note II, but rivals like LG and Sony are working to give the Korean juggernaut some competition. Couple that with persistent rumors that Apple is working on a larger smartphone of its very own and BlackBerry’s 5-inch follow-up may wind up facing the same issues with standing out as the company’s current hardware crop does.
The Q5 is a device that needed to exist — after all, a huge chunk of BlackBerry’s userbase can be found in developing markets where relatively few people could comfortably shell out the money necessary for an up-market device like the Z10 or Q10. If all goes according to plan, the Q5 may be the phone that helps BlackBerry maintain its strongholds across the globe. But a 5-inch BlackBerry? Heins and company will have to make an awfully strong argument for if it wants the world to give it a shot.
Sprint, the U.S.’s number-three wireless carrier, today issued a terse statement saying that it would evaluate “carefully” the “unsolicited proposal” from Dish, the country’s number-three pay-TV provider, to buy the carrier for $25.5 billion. Before today, Sprint had been in the midst of working through a deal to sell a 70% stake to Softbank for $20.5 billion.
That pre-existing deal came with a lot of visible support from both Softbank’s and Sprint’s top management, and came also with financial help worked in for the continued build-out of Sprint’s network (more on that here).
Meanwhile, in the absence of any more comment from Sprint itself at the moment, Dish’s chairman Charles Ergen dished out more detail behind its rationale for making a premium bid for Sprint: it’s about video, getting Dish subscribers locked in to more services, and having a connection to those customers, wherever they are.
“People want to look video wherever they are and this is converging,” chairman Charles Ergen said on the call.
The growth of mobile data usage, and the growth of mobile video, has extended a lot of the kind of content consumption activity that would have been saved traditionally for the home. Ergen referred to smartphones and tablets as “miniature high-definition televisions that you can take with you everywhere.” That’s something Dish has already been trying hard to court with services like Hopper for watching TV anywhere (and controversially skipping commercials, too).
Ergen also highlighted some of the shortcomings of Dish’s business today: “The cable industry does a good job in your home and wireless does well outside the home, but there’s no one company that does both really well,” Ergen said. “When you add Dish and Sprint together you have two services that can grow together.” The estimated pricetag that Dish puts on that extra opportunity as $24 billion. That opportunity is more commonly called “quad play,” encompassing broadband, TV, voice and wireless services.
Dish has been amassing wireless spectrum since 2008 and would bring, he said, “45MHz of unencumbered spectrum to the party” — no small thing in a country like the U.S. where mobile data use continues to grow even as smartphone adoption reaches penetration, but (like everywhere else) wireless spectrum remains a finite resource.
Borrowing data from Cisco, this is Dish’s vision of how mobile data use will rise:
He said a combined Dish/Sprint/Clearwire (if things go their way) could end up with an “8-lane, uncongested highway” of 230MHz of spectrum compared to the two congested lanes Sprint has today (53MHz); or the four bumper-to-bumper lanes apiece for AT&T and Verizon (respectively at 106MHz and 107MHz). But… he wouldn’t be drawn out on whether this would potentially mean competition-busting, large, low-cost data plans to take advantage of all that open space.
Dish today has the spectrum but no network to run these services, so buying a network with millions of users already on it makes a lot more sense right now than building out a physical network from scratch. It also means opening the door to a new set of subscribers for cross-selling services.
Here’s Sprint’s full statement:
“Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S) today confirmed it has received an unsolicited proposal from DISH Network to acquire the Company. The Company said that its Board of Directors will evaluate this proposal carefully and consistent with its fiduciary and legal duties. The company does not plan to comment further until the appropriate time.”
Say what you will about Dish Network, but the Colorado company’s brass has some moxie.
The satellite media service provider has been trying for years now to link up with notable national wireless carrier to help operate a mobile service to sell alongside its current offerings, and according to a recent report from Bloomberg, Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen has approached T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom about the possibility of a Dish/T-Mobile merger.
In case you haven’t been keeping tabs on Dish’s potential push into the wireless market, the saga has enough bumps and twists to rival a soap opera. This is far from the first time that representatives of the company have made these sorts of overtures towards major wireless carriers and their parent businesses. Just prior to the collapse of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger in December 2011, Dish Network CEO Joseph Clayton pointed out the possibility of striking a deal with T-Mobile in a bid to bolster Dish’s coffers and light up its own wireless service.
“We want to use it to create a national wireless network, video, voice and data,” Clayton told Bloomberg at the time. “The voice part, we’ll need some help with.”
In the event that the merger didn’t pan out (and we all know how that went), Clayton also said that Dish had considered a similar partnership with the folks at Sprint. Despite later rumors that AT&T was considering a Dish acquisition because it was just so hard up for spectrum access, Dish opted to make an unsolicited $5.15 billion offer to ailing network operator Clearwire… less than a month after Sprint announced that it would purchase the parts of Clearwire it didn’t already own for $2.2 billion. At this point the three parties are still trying to hash things out, but things don’t look too promising for Dish — Clearwire has accepted $160 million from Sprint over the last two months, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that Dish is officially out of the running.
That said, Ergen doesn’t seemed gutted by the prospect of losing against Sprint for control of Clearwire. “If for some reason Clearwire is not an option for us because that’s just the way the circumstances go, then we think we have other alternatives,” he noted during Dish’s most recent earnings call. Chairman Ergen and CEO Clayton have done well to set up as many contingencies as they have these past few years, but Dish’s future in mobile is still unclear and it could be months before there’s any more progress to announce.