Bell Mobility and Rogers Wireless Inc. appear to be pulling out all the stops in a bid to secure new subscribers to the BlackBerry with the ultimate objective of increasing wireless data services revenue. Both companies have in recent months entered into agreements with unlikely partners, offering "free" BlackBerry devices with the purchase of services.  Avis Rent A Car is the partner of choice for Bell Mobility. The two companies inked a deal earlier this year that would see Avis customers receive a BlackBerry 6750 free provided they agree to a two-year service contract. Rogers Wireless for its part has partnered with little-known itravel2000, offering those who book travel through the online travel agency a free BlackBerry 7100r.  The rationale behind the partnerships is clear as both Bell Mobility and Rogers Wireless are using the co-marketing partnerships to drive greater penetration of these devices into their overall subscriber base. The strategic thrust is logical as BlackBerry and other converged devices can stimulate greater use of wireless data services, an area receiving a greater push not only from these two carriers, but from others as well.  Iain Grant of the SeaBoard Group says for many people and small businesses it is still a challenge to come up with the money to purchase these kinds of devices. "To get rid of that hurdle, you look for someone else who wants to help you co-market, and for their own reasons, can offer you an incentive to go and rent an Avis car, for example," he tells Report on Wireless.  Marketing BlackBerries this way further shows that the devices are winning greater mainstream attention, and the wireless operators are hoping to profit from the trend. Greater BlackBerry penetration will only push higher the percentage of wireless data services revenue as a percentage of overall average revenue per user (ARPU). Currently, wireless operators are reporting wireless data revenue of about 5% of total ARPU, but the figure is rising rapidly. According to Rogers Wireless, it will hit the 10% of ARPU coming from wireless data target sooner than previously expected.  For its part, Bell Mobility is seeing double-digit growth in wireless data services revenue on a quarterly basis. In its recent year-end and fourth quarter 2004 conference call Bell Canada group president of consumer markets Pierre Blouin noted that wireless data services revenue is in the 4% to 5% range, but growing. "And this is going to be an area of fast growth in 2005 in particular as we launch EVDO and that we think is going to accelerate substantially that trend," he said.  These co-marketing relationships are also in recognition of the changing user landscape, Grant says. "If you offered a free BlackBerry two years ago, people might not have expected something other than fruit salad. I think this says a lot about the fact that the BlackBerry is almost ubiquitous in people’s mind, if not in their pockets, and Rogers, Bell and RIM all hope that more pockets will have more BlackBerries, especially if we think Treo and the others are going to start doing the same thing," he explains.  The BlackBerry, developed by Waterloo ON-based Research in Motion Ltd., has seen dramatic penetration increases in the recent past. It topped the two-million-subscriber mark in about nine months after attaining its first one million users (see charts for BlackBerry subscriber growth over the past several quarters).  The co-marketing arrangements are without question an effective marketing tool not only for the carriers, but also for the other providers looking to sell more travel packages or in the case of Avis, rent more cars. Donna Arnott, Avis’ director of marketing, says this partnership is about providing customers with more services and to date it has had a positive impact on the company’s operations. "It’s one more thing that we were looking at to bring to our customers, the small business customers, the guy that’s on a tight budget running his own company, as well as busy professionals that travel and are always looking for ways of being more productive, saving money and doing more while on the road," she tells Report on Wireless.  Arnott says it’s still early days in the program since the company didn’t kick marketing and promotion for the initiative into high gear until the last couple of months. The full impact of the co-marketing alliance with Bell won’t be known until an assessment is completed after it has run its course, she adds. "We really just began effectively promoting the promotion in March and April, and that is when we went out in the consumer travel type magazines, the Enroute inflight magazine and WestJet’s inflight magazine," she explains.  The Bell-Avis free BlackBerry program runs until April 30, but Arnott says it’s possible the co-marketing initiative will be extended. While Bell Mobility and Rogers Wireless, and their respective partners, are trying to convince people to rent cars and take trips, Telus Mobility is – not surprisingly – standing on the sidelines, deciding not to jump on the "free offer" bandwagon. The company has been notoriously stingy when it comes to pricing and free offers, and it shouldn’t be expected that the company is going to sacrifice healthy operating metrics for a higher cost of acquisition in one quarter just to snag a few thousand more BlackBerry users.  A scan of the company’s promotions section on its web site revealed a "bargain" for the new high-end colour-screen BlackBerry 7250. New customers pay only $399, provided they sign up for a three-year service plan. It retails for $549 without a contract. Bell Mobility is offering its corporate customers the same device for $99 with a three-year service contract.  Telus Mobility has stated in recent years that it has no plans to be a pricing leader in the country, opting instead to rely on value-added services and branding as primary subscriber attraction tools. Increases in wireless penetration will come from "creative packaging and programs, but not through any requirement for lower pricing in the industry," company president and CEO George Cope said during a recent conference call. He added, "…The market has huge opportunity for growth through enhanced services, and we want to catch that – our piece of the fair share of that market growth." Neither Bell Mobility nor Rogers Wireless returned phone calls seeking comment on the strategic rationale behind the offers.