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BlackBerry pecks up crisis squawker AtHoc to add sauce to BBM

Networks are the future, reckons John Chen's firm

BlackBerry shed some light on its latest acquisition target, AtHoc, today. It looks an improbable fit at first: AtHoc does crisis comms for emergency services and campuses, and its big customers include the military, the Department of Homeland Security and the DoD.

Speaking at BlackBerry’s annual security summit in New York, CEO John Chen said richer services containing content the services could be built onto AtHoc, once it was integrated with BlackBerry’s own secure global network.

The prize is clearly the Internet of Things, which, as envisaged, provides millions of attack vectors for hackers, and healthcare IT, where a workflow involves data flowing across multiple providers who may or not be secure.

The San Mateo-based company manages Things (like fire alarms) and personal safety, AtHoc CEO Guy Miasnik said today, and it already has a bunch of Federal health care customers.

“Our vision is to marry AdHoc to BBM – so we can distribute rich content in a secure manner,” Chen told analysts and customers in New York.

BlackBerry has agreed the deal to buy AtHoc, but it requires regulatory approval. It’s the fourth acquisition that BlackBerry describes as “filling in the gaps” between its historic messaging and BBM. WatchDox secures data and permissions, such as printing, on a file, while SecuSUITE provides secure voice for BBM calls. The virtual SIM app from British company MoVirtu is behind the impressive WorkLife, which partitions personal and work data and voice so neither party can see the other.

Clearly network smarts provide a key differentiator for BlackBerry, allowing it to make assumptions about network end points that rivals that don’t have a global network can’t do, and then build security and management services on top of that network. For example, a hospital needs confidential patient data to flow between various enterprises over multiple sites, while enterprise security monitors need to fret over every firewall port, making a Swiss cheese of your router

Ironically, pundits and analysts all wanted BlackBerry to get rid of its global network of network operating centres as the company was crashing two to three years ago. Why would anyone need it when push email was bog standard?

With the shortcomings of bog standard internet being exposed every day, it’s hard to now imagine BlackBerry without it. ®

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