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BlackBerry’s Only Lifeline is About to Be Severed

If you own a BlackBerry, you’re already aware that Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) experienced its biggest network blackout in the company’s history this week.

The shutdown began on Monday, hitting customers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Canada, South America, parts of Asia and the United States at different times over the course of several days.

Obviously there’s never a convenient moment for your network to go haywire. But with the new iPhone 4S available in stores today, and a special Android announcement scheduled for next week, this is probably the worst time imaginable.

Although the problem is now fixed, the damage was done.

As William Blair & Co. analyst, Anil Doradla, says, “People who are on the fringes and are thinking about going away from RIM… days like this clearly motivate them to do that.”

So after an event such as this one, what could there possibly be keeping BlackBerry loyalists from cutting ties with RIM?

Well, I suspect many people aren’t ready to give up the device’s popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service yet. But the bad news is only getting worse for RIM. Because even that fan favorite won’t be enough to keep users onboard pretty soon.

Here’s why…

RIM’s Downward Momentum Intensifies

With BBM, users can send text messages and emails to other BlackBerry owners over a data connection or Wi-Fi, just like you’d send an instant message on a computer. Essentially, it’s an unlimited texting plan without having to go through a carrier.

Up until now, this service alone has been a good enough reason for some users to stick with their BlackBerry.

Unfortunately for RIM, Apple, T-Mobile and Google have caught on to the service’s popularity. And each now offers a similar – if not better – version.

Here’s a brief rundown of each…

~ Apple: The iPhone 4S wasn’t the only big announcement to come out of the Apple event last week. The company also announced a new service called iMessage. It works exactly like BBM, except you don’t need to have an iPhone to text other iMessage users. All it takes is an Apple device with a data connection. So the iPod Touch and iPad can join in, too.

~ T-Mobile: Last spring, the company launched Bobsled. The application allowed users to make calls through Facebook on an internet browser. But now users can download the application to make free calls to other mobile or landline numbers. And just like BBM or iMessage, it only needs a data connection. Better yet, both Android and iPhone owners have access. 

~ Google: Google Voice merges the benefits of iMessage and Bobsled in one application. It can send messages, email and make calls over a data connection. It actually removes the need for a cellular plan through your carrier entirely. You can just sign up for a data package alone – as long as you have a rock-solid 3G or 4G signal in your area. 

Sometimes When it Rains… It Pours

Let’s face it. Even without the massive network outage and the new BBM killers available, RIM was already bleeding subscribers…

According to data from ComScore, RIM’s smartphone marketshare cratered 20% in the three months ending August 31.

It just hasn’t been able to keep up as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) continue to produce superior devices. (Marketshare for them has jumped by 2% and 15%, respectively.) 

Now that the same technology that keeps BlackBerry owners shackled to their devices is available on other smartphones, don’t be surprised if RIM’s already dwindling marketshare falls off a cliff in the coming weeks.

And shares – which are already tiptoeing dangerously close to a new 52-week low – won’t be far behind.

Good investing,

Justin Fritz

Justin Fritz

, Executive Editor

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