RIM shares plunge: Start looking for your BlackBerry contingency

Summary:While RIM continues to fall steeply, enterprises are looking for contingencies should RIM sink and takes the crucial data network down with it.

While Research in Motion's chief executive Thorsten Heins keeps his head firmly in the sand and pretends nothing is wrong amid claims  the company is in a "death spiral,"  enterprise customers are looking for alternatives should the BlackBerry life-support data network crumble.

Bloomberg first reported that in anticipation of a potential buyout, enterprise customers are looking for "contingency plans" to the BlackBerry platform in case of a permanent service outage.

That expected day is edging ever closer. In only thirty days, RIM saw $2 billion wiped off its market cap. It now stands below the $4 billion mark at the time of writing. 

One word: "ouch." Maybe another for good measure: "doomed."

RIM is a tale of two parts: a smartphone making unit, and a supporting data network independent of mobile carriers.

Should a company eventually buy out RIM or acquire the data network, it may not be under any obligation to keep the 78 million BlackBerry smartphones in service

Naturally, the enterprise is worried: without the data network, you can call and send text messages, but there's no secure email for you. In fact, there's no email at all, and certainly no Web browsing. 

RIM's buy-out, split-off, or good ol' fashioned collapse could leave 78 million BlackBerry's as nothing more than expensive paperweights.

Though, switching from the humble BlackBerry to Android or iPhones isn't as easy as one might think. From a logistical point of view, RIM still offers an all-in-one solution that no other company has. 

It offers end-to-end secure email encryption with a reliable service and hardened, highly-secure smartphones. No other smartphone maker comes close to RIM's duopoly in the smartphone--data network tag team.

There are some companies that provide bolt-on technology to existing iPhones and Android devices like MobileIron, used by British money manager Thames River Capital. It opens up the doors for bring-your-own-device ("BYOD") policies in the workplace and enables compatible phones to connect and communicate securely, just as a BlackBerry would. 

Though, RIM has one additional component that enterprises --- including governments --- are keen to keep, and others fall short of: government certification.

Apple and Google are both rumoured to be seeking the government rubber stamp of approval, but BlackBerry's are still the only device to have government's content. Why? It's back to the data network, which provides the back-end secure infrastructure that gives the BlackBerry the edge. It's decentralised and RIM has no access to your enterprise emails (often much to a government's dismay.)

But BlackBerry owners: don't panic yet. Its data network business is generally seen as profitable and highly valuable, and other companies will likely be making their bids in the coming weeks to complement their own services, like Apple's iCloud, Google's Apps for Business, and Microsoft's Office 365 services. 

The Ontario-based company currently generates much of its revenues through  BlackBerry smartphone sales to the business and enterprise market . But with many enterprise contracts expiring and RIM's downfall documented seemingly by the second, the company could see its expected second-quarter loss widen even more than expected. 

"RIM’s situation is dire, but even in a worst-case scenario, RIM’s servers aren’t likely to get turned off anytime soon,” said Current Analysis's Avi Greengart in the Bloomberg article. 

RIM has two clear options --- beyond the three sell, split, or sink options already on offer --- and it has to stomach it.

Either it can sell-off the data network to a third-party for whatever price it can under the condition that it will provide lasting support for the existing 78 million customers for two or three years, giving enterprises in particular ample time to make the switch to a viable alternative.... or it could not. 

It really is as black and white as that. And if it doesn't, the company will not only go down with the ship, but will shoot its fellow passengers as it does.

Image credit: YCharts.

Topics: BlackBerry, Government, Tech Industry

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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