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RIM investors worried after CEO discusses changing service fees

Research In Motion, no longer commanding the enterprise market as it once did, is switching from a one-size-fits-all approach for enterprise services to tiered services offerings.

For customers – enterprise customers, at least – that means they'll have additional flexibility to choose from a menu of service offerings that better reflects their business needs. Some customers might keep on paying the same services fees they currently do for these features; others, both enterprise and consumer, might pay much less or absolutely nothing at all.

The news comes straight from RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, mentioned during the company's recent announcement of its third-quarter financial results. However, the new tiered pricing setup won't take effect until after RIM debuts what's been dubbed its "all-or-nothing" platform, BlackBerry 10, next month.

"Subscribers that require enhanced services, including advanced security, mobile device management, and other services, are expected to continue to generate monthly service revenue. Other subscribers, who do not utilize such services, are expected to generate less or no service revenue," Heins said.

"However, I want to be very clear on this. Service revenues are not going away, but our business model and service offerings are going to evolve. Our vision is to position BlackBerry as the clear leader in the enterprise mobility market," he added.

RIM's goal is clear: Keep the subscriber base intact at any cost. And it's a move that has investors a bit spooked – RIM shares plunged nearly 23 per cent after the company's earnings call last week, almost entirely as a result of Heins' unexpected announcement. Service fees accounted for around $982 million (£607 million) of the company's $2.73 billion (£1.69 billion) sales in the third quarter.

According to Bloomberg, it's expected that RIM's service fee revenue – assuming the company holds around 15 million enterprise customers and 60 million consumer customers – could drop by a full third.

Some analysts remain sceptical that RIM's release of BlackBerry 10 – and accompanying devices – will be able to keep the business afloat, be it a question of service fee revenue or RIM's ability to get new devices into consumer and enterprise hands.

"While RIM management remains bullish for its BB10 smartphone launch Jan. 30, we do not believe BB10 devices will turn around its struggling business," said Michael Walkley, of Canaccord Genuity, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. "With a very low probability the market will support RIM's new mobile computing ecosystem, we believe RIM will eventually need to sell the company."