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Balsillie planned to bust open BlackBerry network before leaving

Board rejected scheme to focus on new handsets

By Iain Thomson • In Mobile • At 20:16 GMT 13th April 2012

Ousted RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie spent his last few months at the helm developing a radical strategy to transform the fortunes of the trouble Canadian company by opening up its network to provide basic data plans to non-smartphone users.

Two contacts with knowledge of the deal told Reuters that the plan called for the company to break its long-held exclusivity and open up its network to other carriers. They claim Balsillie was talking to AT&T and Verizon for the US market, and Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, France Telecom, and Telefonica in Europe, plus an unnamed Canadian carrier, about the scheme.

Under the scheme, RIM's BlackBerry Messenger application would be opened up to a wide variety of other operating systems, running email and basic social media and messaging tools. The pitch to carriers is that these could be run off feature phones and then used to up-sell users on a more expensive smartphone once they were hooked on mobile data.

Balsillie's plan would have focused on expanding RIM's profitable network traffic side by working on its strengths in social media. The question of whether BlackBerry's network would cope with the sudden influx of new users is another matter, but the launch of its Mobile Fusion management tool for Android and iOS earlier this month shows the company has been working on integration for some time.

Sadly, the plans proved too ballsy for the board and founder Mike Lazaridis, and Balsillie left the company in March, along with RIM's software CTO and global COO, after the company reported a $125m loss for the last quarter. Since then, the company appears to have dithered over its commitment to consumer markets and waiting for the launch of BlackBerry OS 10 devices towards the end of the year.

While none of the companies mentioned would comment on the story's claims, the leak would be a good way to test the waters if a group of investors were looking to stage a management coup. Balsillie has accumulated one of the largest stakes in RIM, with around 5 per cent, and there are other investors who would welcome a focus on the money-making side of the business. ®

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