BlackBerry and Sierra Wireless are a good fit for the Internet of things

By Chris Umiastowski on 26 May 2014 09:32 pm EDT

Lately I've been feeling like there isn't much exciting going on in the world of BlackBerry. We're basically waiting until November to see if BES traction is as good as the company says it will be, and hoping to see BlackBerry get back to profitability.

That's why last week's announcement of Project Ion was somewhat exciting to me. Don't get me wrong - I think the press release said practically nothing. It's all too common in technology land for fancy press releases to be filled with vague-speak. BlackBerry announced a project, not a product. They are not anywhere close to the same thing.

I have a lot of questions running through my mind. Who's leading the project and what experience does he or she have? How does BlackBerry expect to compete against the other enormous companies that want to win in this space (including Microsoft)?

Around 2000, when the first BlackBerry devices hit the market, there was no such thing as a smartphone. BlackBerry was so far ahead of its time they laughed all the way to the bank as competitors stumbled to compete with them for years. But with machine to machine computing and the Internet of Things, this is not the case. Everyone is aware of the trend, and everyone wants to be a player. BlackBerry is not starting out from a position of early leadership like they did in mobile email. This leads me to believe they'd be better off boosting their position by combining forces with someone who's already in the space. It might give them a better chance of success versus building something from the ground up all by themselves.

Enter Sierra Wireless. Several years ago this Canadian wireless technology company made a strategic decision to focus exclusively on the M2M market. They launched their own cloud-based software platform, called AirVantage, to enable solutions for all sorts of enterprises whether it be outdoor advertising, fleet management, healthcare, or whatever. They've got a great position as a consolidator in the hardware side of the business, and dominant market share in that hardware business. The software piece is much newer. But I believe Sierra Wireless has all the pieces in place.

BlackBerry brings QNX, which is a highly secure micro-kernel based OS. That has value. And I can't help but wonder if BlackBerry and Sierra would be better off together. It's not the first time I've suggested this, and it probably won't be the last.

At the top of this article is a little YouTube explainer video that Sierra created to explain what they're up to. Thoughts?

(Disclosure: I own shares in BlackBerry and Sierra Wireless, and have for many years)

Reader comments

BlackBerry and Sierra Wireless are a good fit for the Internet of things


Quick. You are first on this track today? Out of the basement early I guess.

Posted Using the magical typings of da "Q"

Sure, but in his quest to be first, his comment says nothing. Saying "first" would have at least some significance.

Umi, great article. Good to see another posting from you. I will be at the BlackBerry Experience here in London, hopefully there will be further news on the project.

 Posted by the Crackberry Pirate  Follow the Channel for Jubei Raziel C00076AFA

Having deal with Sierra on a regular basis, I suggest a partnership seems reasonable.

PS: BES10 installs are going guns a blazing #Prediction

Posted via CB10 & my killer BlackBerry Z30

They will know everything about your life.
Everything connected, they will be able to map every move, likes, dislikes, the temperature of your home (Nest) the TV programmes you watch and what's stocked in your fridge....

The mapping of your whole life at their fingertips..... scary.

 Posted by the Crackberry Pirate  Follow the Channel for Jubei Raziel C00076AFA

It's all about convenience. We have to put adequate privacy measures in place NOW before its too late.

(Undermining the US Constitution is just the legal framework for this. And other countries happily copy. "One Nation, under surveillance..." )

Until SkyNet or the Matrix thinks we're no longer convenient and discards us.

Or until it's "We the People" again!

The one they left out help us (God).

"No Q10?" -> "Buy from Chen... "

Think of data mining like AirMiles, Facebook, and Google acquiring more of your personal data in real time!

Our perception of what it is to be real will be blurred within 60yrs! Don't believe me... think of Mr Greystones daughter when she describes how real she can be existing in a virtual room in BSG: Caprica in the first 5 episodes.

BB ~ "If it don't make dollars it don't make sense!"

Not knowing a lot about Sierra wireless or their current value ( I really haven't thought much about them much since the original edge wireless cards).. Would BlackBerry be in a position to aquire them?

Posted via the Android CrackBerry App!

Even if BlackBerry isn't in a position to acquire they could form a partnership. That had been the mantra of BlackBerry for the last few years.

Posted via CB10

I think it's possible. They only need 51% of the company, or whatever lower percentage is needed to gain majority shares.

Will eventually be posted via CB10 on my Z70

Is there any discussions of BlackBerry partnering up with Sierra Wireless or is it just the article writer dreaming?

It sounds interesting although.

Powered by BB

Great question! It appears there's some possibility that their may be some talk but I want to hear more.

By the way it should be "excitement" not "exciting" in the 1st sentence. Come on Chris out of all people you should have knawn better! LoL

 BlackBerry Q10  Keep The Faith 

I think "exciting" works just fine in the first sentence. Chris has dropped the "that is", as often happens: "...not much (that is) exciting". You, on the other hand have misused "their". It should be "there": "...there may be some talk". Getting picky about grammar often backfires.

Chris, that YouTube clip sounds a wee bit as if you're doing the voice-over!
Seriously, I see your point -- the brief example Alec Saunders offered at O'Reilly Solid looks as if it could have been generated by Sierra. As in, Saunders' speech as an extended example of what Sierra is talking about in the YouTube clip.

Market Value if $640 Million. Has cash in the bank....not sure BlackBerry is ready for this type of purchase now but if not too late maybe next spring.

Posted via CB10

Seems like a fantastic partnership, especially after seeing Saunders on stage re: project Ion. Just not sure how BlackBerry could setup the partnership in a way that is beneficial for them. Between this partnership and say a company like Ubuntu I see the potential of a powerhouse emerging to take on Microsoft and the likes. Can't wait to see what unfolds for BlackBerry other the next few years.

Posted via CB10

Can't beat the Black Range.

Imagine the antenna and reception you'll get off that combination!

"No Q10?" -> "Buy from Chen... "

Thank you, Chris.

This is a great idea. Thanks for taking the time to write about this. The thing is that AirVantage is a very focused development platform well and truly aimed at the automotive market. Sierra doesn't overtly promote this to the bigger developmental community at the moment (or, rather, it's not obvious that they do).

However... Having said that:

Sierra Wireless and QNX and BlackBerry have a lot to offer the market, here.

BlackBerry offers up their own highly secure backend network to support all of the new Internet of Things. As well BlackBerry has something called the Secure Element Manager (SEM) solution for mobile payments and which is currently the backend solution for carriers that can securely manage credentials on SIM cards installed in all types of NFC-capable mobile devices. (iPhones notwithstanding). In Canada the three major carriers Bell, Telus & Rogers have already formed the EnStream ( consortium to make a more open pathway for mobile money - this same foundation can be used to foundationally to support a future IoN project with QNX and Sierra Wireless providing supersets of hardware, networking expertise, and secure computing clouds.

There is a powerful combination of innovation in Canada led by the likes of Wavefront, for example ( which specialises in the mobile ecosystem and support for start-ups. Some of their principal investors are Rogers, Sierra Wireless, IBM, and I think even BlackBerry at one point. That place would be a perfect hub to bring all the parties together to create something new and special, I believe , as the parts are already there on the table nearly ready to assemble.

I really like the idea of a partnership, as long as it makes sense and the potential outweighs the negative possibilities. I have always hoped either Nokia and/or Motorola would partner with BlackBerry but I can always dream!

 BlackBerry Q10  Keep The Faith 

I think there's still a lot of smarts at BlackBerry and if they can just get their shit together and execute on some of these grand visions, they *could do a bang up job.

C'mon BlackBerry, I know you got it in you!

BRON: a cron-like scheduler for BlackBerry 10.

Chris how does BB finance a $600M plus deal ? Is it a partnership with someone else to takeout SWIR

Swap shares?

I'm sure Prem Watsa has a few "trading cards" to spare after the convertible debentures deal. Others can chip in, too.

"No Q10?" -> "Buy from Chen... "

I'm afraid not many companies would want to partner up with another company that's not sitting to well in the market.

John Chen I don't know what your up to but I hope you do!

 BlackBerry Q10  Keep The Faith 

Liked the video.

I think as many companies as possible should come together for this. If all machines are going to be talking to each other, each different solution is going to have to be able to communicate with one another anyways.

I have the same thinking with autonomous vehicles. So many companies are trying to make this happen, but all their products are going to have to communicate with each other in order to really make this work, so why not work with one another to make it possible.

Posted via CB10

I could see them forming a partnership. :)

Posted via CrackBerry 10 (CB10) application using my BlackBerry Q10.

And you can't hack it, and it won't crash, k/panic, beachball or BSOD.

Thanks to QNX :-)

"No Q10?" -> "Buy from Chen... "

Excellent and constructive article. Blackberry, QNX and AirVantage may be a good team. I like their idea of having teamed up with NantWorks considering this age of online Personal Health Records and maybe being able to compete with the likes of Cerner and Meditech could be HUGE. Cerner controls most of the integrated information systems software market I believe but hey if Blackberry can nudge themselves into this niche I think it's a big opportunity for them.

Q10 on T-Mobile

Tesla was amazing.. too bad our textbooks and teachers here in the states only teach of Edison..a shame.. we owe a lot to Nikola Tesla (the master of lightning).. prodigal genius.. Alternating Current and the power to harness and utilize it.. he was awesome.

Q10 on T-Mobile

So how does BlackBerry's IoT M2M differentiate between what they are doing already? If it's the same, then how is BlackBerry going to catch up to someone who ready started? I know you all want the partnership, but let's pretend it can't and won't happen. What then? How does BlackBerry differentiate their plan in comparison? I know BlackBerry has security, anything else?

[thinking out loud]
Experience is a key to success. Can't deny that.
Yet, QNX is the pivot point for "the BlackBerry of things"; they cannot afford to rely on third party existing solution. Remember the bottom up scheme; it is a (the ?) strategic key point.
Of course, they need interoperability but I believe they demonstrated they will push into that direction (APIs for non BES MDM solution) and I won't be surprised we'll see similar announcement for M2M/IoT.
Can they afford a new acquisition ? I don't think so.
Can they "invite" Sierra Wireless into the Industrial Internet Consortium ? Seems much more affordable (but + AT&T are in the place already).
If none of the above, couldn't they simply poach talents in SW team ? Finally, that's the way others are doing right now with their security teams ...

On another front - unless I misunderstood your writing - BlackBerry/QNX do have one stroke ahead in this area. As an example, most of QNX powered industrial goods are already (kinda) M2M enabled and network architectures (Cisco/QNX) are "ready to upgrade", not to mention the evergreen QNX car solution.

We saw how difficult and long merging technologies - moreover different teams cultures and methods - was, as well for QNX (late launch of BB10) and TAT (half baked, IMHO, UI). Should we go for another round or capitalize ? Tough question ... I believe the above self explains my -hot- thinking.

- can use embedded Linux
- can use SE Linux to create various on-device profiles
- already has a cloud based device management system
- has hardware which can be used across verticals

If BlackBerry tries to create an open platform to manage devices, Sierra can simply offer compatibility with it.
If BlackBerry simply modifies BES to control more device types, then it's still BES and it's easily replicable. (BlackBerry's advantage does not lie in its use of a tunnel to send information.)
If BlackBerry licenses QNX (to be managed by other solutions), Sierra can license it, like everybody else.

BlackBerry is good at one thing, securing private mobile networks, and it works because they offer an end to end solution which is important when dealing with security (and the reason they get all these certifications which only demonstrate that you can follow a process). The only sectors which can use this approach are regulated verticals and they are in no hurry to put M2M in place, so competitors have plenty of time to come up with alternatives and will probably only look at BlackBerry as a last resort and once they've proven they can execute.

Good article as usual. Crackberry needs your thinking.

In fact though, while I am not any expert in this area, it appears critical that BlackBerry develop key alliances. There are plenty of small, innovative, and agile companies which when in cooperation could well advance in markets faster than the big guys. BlackBerry should be in a position to do so.

Posted via CB10

Great read Chris. While I think SW partnership might be a good thing I think Telit would be an even better fit. Check them out Chris.

Posted via CB10

I would say a Strategic Partnership would benefit both companies greatly.

Posted via CB10

Firstly, welcome back Umi. You've been missed around here.

Agreed -- A Sierra/BlackBerry collaboration would be great. However, many more partnerships must be formed for them to be taken seriously. Cisco and Avaya for instance would hugely help bolster their status.

Just doing some more research on this idea. Sierra only just recently (Feb) had a press release showing an almost competitive approach to QNX:

They're using a Linux programming environment via a secure and well known distribution (WindRiver) which is known for being a tiny efficient kernel. However: there is still room for a QNX play. This will be especially the case where any developer (including Sierra) might be looking for an end solution that steers well clear of open source and all the baggage that brings with it including security issues.

To succeed at Sierra Wireless I believe that BlackBerry and QNX need to position the QNX platform as an evolutionary replacement for OpenAT at Sierra and, in general, for companies needing something even more robust and secure than WindRiver.

I think that their core competencies and business focus are different enough that a partnership would make more sense than an acquisition. BlackBerry needs to stay focused at the moment.

Posted via CB10 on my Z10.

Another great article Chris. After seeing the Nant Health deal announced, I'm very curious to see what other partnerships BlackBerry is planning on forging moving forward.

The video was interesting as well because it looks to be that sierra wireless essentially already does what project Ion is hoping to do. If BlackBerry had. Deeper pockets at the moment, Sierra would definitely make a good acquisition target for them.

As a request, I'd really like to see how BlackBerry plans on monetizing all these concepts. I understand that they essentially want to be a part of the infrastructure that all these connected devices are going to rely on, but how will that make them money? Licensing fees from manufacturers, or subscription fees from end users? Perhaps a combination of both?

Posted while peeking and flowing on my incredible BBQ10! 

I agree 100%
I've been saying this for a while now. I think ever since I saw you suggest it on your personal blog...or was it here on CB?

Posted via CB10

Don't think that SWIR on its own would be enough. They need a multi billion market cap major partner with major heft and cash so that everyone knows they mean business and together they can push back when the big boys try to steal their lunch.

Posted via CB10