Reports that RIM is being forced to consider difficult options, including a sale or partnership with Microsoft, didn't catch me totally by surprise. I had the thought yesterday that it made sense.
I'd like to thank user skswave for commenting on my column yesterday about the manageability of Windows Phone 8 and pointing out the following (edited a bit):
You missed one critical point which is that Windows Phone 8 supports TPM [Trusted Platform Module] and provides the hardware root of trust that made BlackBerry more secure. TPM is now in all of the business PCs and you can build today an enterprise where the VPN and domain credentials can be tied to TPM, thus assuring that the user cannot be tricked into giving them up, as the user has no domain credentials, just TPM secured certs. This model replaces userid and password for registration and changes the IT security game. TPM provides the foundation for secure boot as well and will begin to harden the software on the devices.
This is really important stuff. Unlike all other smartphones, BlackBerry was designed from the beginning with security in mind. Communications using BlackBerry phones flows encrypted on RIM's secure network either to its own servers or to a company's in-house BED (BlackBerry Enterprise Server). BES is both an e-mail relay and a management device, and it provides push data services as well; messages that come in to a client for e-mail, calendaring, and other services are delivered through RIM's NOC (Network Operations Center) through the user's mobile carrier to the device, rather than wait for the device to pull the data.
As the RIM reports indicate, one option is to think of its network as an asset that can succeed on its own. The major downside to RIM of decoupling RIM's BlackBerry hardware and its network is that it will hasten the demise of its hardware business, as the network is one of the major reasons some customers prefer BlackBerry.
The network is available in 91 countries which makes it quite a valuable asset. My thought, when I read the comment on my column, was that access to that network would be a great selling point for Windows Phone 8. Perhaps it would be worth it to Microsoft to throw a few billion dollars at RIM for such access. Some logical extensions of this would be some help in increasing the reliability of the NOC, perhaps through a redundant facility. Microsoft knows how to do that sort of thing.
As important as the actual security of the BlackBerry network is the perception of security in that network, which is high. Businesses are used to trusting RIM to secure their data. BlackBerry isn't failing because of that security, but in spite of it. With more appealing phones, Microsoft could better use the network in the market.
Will it happen? I have to think RIM will try to give BlackBerry 10 a chance, because selling or renting out the network now is an admission of defeat for BB10, and it's probably still too early for that. The other notion in the reports, about a Nokia-like deal where BlackBerries would run Windows Phone 8, seems silly to me.