'BlackBerry Tax' & why Office365 with BlackBerry isn't free

The term 'Blackberry Tax' is often used by RIM's critics (myself included) to describe the extra cost of running a Blackberry device in 'business mode'. Recently, however, I've frequently been corrected... Plenty of options are now 'free' I'm told - especially the add-on for Microsoft's new Office365 cloud service. Sadly it's not that simple. There are 4 (yes, really) ways to get data services on a BlackBerry:

1. BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) - The Consumer Way

  • Offers push email but does not reliably sync read status.
  • Does not synchronise calendar or contact data except for Google's services (which is unreliable).
  • Typically provided by mobile networks free with a data plan.

Verdict: Free, but not business-grade.

2. BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express (BES-X) - The 'Free' Way #1

  • Free software installed with an email server[1. MS Exchange and Google Apps, but not Office365.]. Must self-host[1. Windows only and requires a database.] or purchase BES-X hosting - typically £7 per user/month[1. All the providers I can find are US-based with a best price of $10 per user/month.].
  • Provides full push synchronisation of email, calendar and contacts plus basic device administration features.
  • Utilises consumer BIS data tariffs.

Verdict: Cheapest and ideal for SMEs, but cost of hosting BES-X software is 'hidden' charge.

3. BlackBerry Business Cloud Services - The 'Free'Way #2

  • Included free with Office365 enterprise plans. No software / hosting required.
  • Provides full push synchronisation of email, calendar and contacts plus basic device administration features.
  • Requires enterprise BES data tariff from mobile operator - cost between £10 and £30 per user/month plus data plan.

Verdict: Cloud service should be the ideal way to reduce costs but excessive mobile operator charges will double most customers' monthly bills.

4. BlackBerry Enterprise Server - The Traditional Business Way

  • Chargeable software installed on a dedicated server[1. MS Exchange, Google Apps or Office365.]. Must self-host or purchase hosting - lowest price ~£7 per user/month.
  • Provides full push synchronisation of email, calendar and contacts plus advanced device administration and enterprise features. Requires skilled administrator.
  • Requires enterprise BES data tariff from mobile operator - cost between £10 and £30 per user/month plus data plan.

Verdict: Offers the full 'bells and whistles' service but at a serious price - software, hosting, administrators and data tariff all cost.

Conclusion

When you consider that options 1 to 3 are all matched or bettered at no additional cost with an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone device you can see why businesses are questioning the value of their BlackBerry investment... and wondering why people keep telling them it's free to run. Even consumers are looking at BIS email and wondering why this - traditionally BlackBerry's home turf - is so weak.

RIM and Microsoft's silence on mobile networks' excessive charging for BlackBerry business tariffs is disingenuous in their Office365 marketing. RIM (at least) has shown they know the cost hurts small businesses especially - that's why BES-X (targeted at SMEs) was designed to work on consumer tariffs.

Third party services can augment the basic BIS product to 'business quality', but this software also comes at a cost - both financial and battery-wise.