BlackBerry Ltd.’s retreat from making smartphones doesn’t mean it is giving up on the consumer device market, where it’s aiming to get its security software into such things as fitness trackers and smart speakers.
The Waterloo, Ont., company is expected to kick off the year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday with a sales pitch to manufacturers who the company hopes will license its software to secure their Internet of Things devices.
The market for such devices is expected to explode to more than 20 billion units in 2020 from about eight billion in 2017, according to research firm Gartner Inc., growth that is coinciding with increasing concerns about privacy.
The reality is, any IoT device can be seen as a threat vector
Alex Thurber, Sr. V-P, BlackBerry
If security is a selling feature, the proliferation of devices has the potential to be a significant revenue source for BlackBerry, which has tried to diversify its revenue streams since it decided to stop making smartphones in 2016.
There could be security implications if bad actors decide to hijack anything from smart meters to lightbulbs, said Alex Thurber, BlackBerry senior vice-president and general manager of mobility solutions.
“The reality is, any IoT device can be seen as a threat vector,” Thurber said.
If a device isn’t secure, he said, it could be used to gain access to an entire network. On a more personal scale, hackers could acquire health data or private images.
BlackBerry is betting its reputation for security will make its software appealing to manufacturers, although Thurber would not reveal any revenue targets or how many devices BlackBerry aims to secure.
“We think this whole opportunity is a large one,” Thurber said.
The pursuit of the consumer device market is the culmination of BlackBerry’s strategy to transition out of hardware and focus on its security software, he said.
At first, it stayed in the smartphone market by licensing its software to other mobile manufacturers. But as it worked to become an “ingredient brand” (much as Intel places “Intel inside” stickers on laptops, Thurber said), executives realized there was a huge world of devices outside phones.
To address this new market, it split its security services into separate products, and will license those to manufacturers as needed, Thurber said.
One of the new products secures hardware at the point of manufacturing by injecting a cryptographic key into the device as it’s being built. The second secures the operating system with a service that detects whether someone is trying to hack a device or implement malware, while the third helps enterprises secure a variety of devices.
BlackBerry has tested the technology with a few customers, one related to devices powered by Amazon.com’s virtual assistant Alexa and the other an industrial product, but now aims to sell it on a larger scale.
BlackBerry’s high-margin licensing business was a bright spot in its latest quarter, earning $68 million in the three months ended Nov. 30 up from $50 million a year prior.