BlackBerry pushes upcoming BBM Protected for end-to-end encrypted messaging

Matt Hamblen

BlackBerry is promoting an upcoming end-to-end encrypted messaging service called BBM Protected for industries that need the highest levels of security. It will launch sometime in the summer.

"We're getting lots of customer interest from security-conscious customers because there's no solution that provides this balance with security and manageability, along with a great user experience," said Thad White, director of BBM for Business.

BBM Protected was first announced in late February as part of the eBBM Suite, an upcoming family of products that works with BlackBerry's Messenger, its smartphones and Enterprise Server (BES) as well as BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 servers. Pricing was not announced, but will charged on a monthly per-user basis.

BlackBerry Protected and the entire eBBM Suite appear to be part of the company's strategy to hold onto its BES customers, many of which are in the government and securities sectors. Blackberry continues to face problems selling smartphones and attracting more customers to its BES 10 servers.

Last September, the company reported 25,000 commercial and test deployments of BES 10 servers, up from 19,000 in July 2013, but then soon after said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that BES 10 had experienced a "slower-than-anticipated rate of adoption."

In last month's fourth-quarter earnings report, BlackBerry didn't indicate how many BES 10 deployments there have been in recent months, although revenue for the quarter was down 64% from a year earlier, while smartphone sales were down by nearly half.

White said BBM for consumers is now available for Android and iOS smartphones as well as BlackBerry. He said BBM Protected will be available first for BlackBerry phones, followed by iPhone and Android phones and eventually Windows Phones.

While the encryption and other management tools with BBM Protected will be tied to customers running BES or BES 10, White didn't reveal any details of the service for non-BES settings. "We want to make [BBM Protected] turnkey for BES customers," he said. "We're not announcing anything related to [offerings for non-BES customers]."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said BlackBerry's move to open consumer-grade BBM to Android and iOS shows the company sees the need for a cross-platform approach. He said BBM Protected also needs to be available for non-BES shops to be successful.

White said there are 85 million BBM customers globally, made up of consumers and enterprise workers.

The BBM Preferred approach will allow workers to communicate over an automatically created end-to-end encrypted link with other workers as well as others outside of their organization.

Microsoft and Cisco both offer secure real-time messaging services, but "they are limited to communications inside an organization, unless you set up a complex federation of servers," White said. "This ability to communicate [securely] inside and outside is critical to a user."

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