Canadian Manufacturing

BlackBerry takes aim at shipping sector

Executive called the current systems used by the shipping industry "a little archaic and not scalable"



WATERLOO, Ont.—BlackBerry Ltd. plans to wade into the transportation industry with new technology that will help shippers keep tabs on their freight, marking the first step towards building a service BlackBerry believes will be a gateway to growth for its business.

BlackBerry will provide hardware and software support for cloud-based communications boxes built into shipping containers.

Each device will include a cellular radio, Wi-Fi connectivity, a microprocessor and sensors that monitor what’s in the container, its location and other details to help fleet managers stay on top of their products and anticipate potential problems.

“There’s lots of useful information you can collect to get more efficient,” said Sandeep Chennakeshu, president of the BlackBerry’s Technology Solutions unit in a telephone phone interview.

“(The communication box is) very similar to a cell phone, except it doesn’t have a display or a keypad. That’s right up our alley.”

An early test was completed in October and plans are underway to make the devices available in “limited specific-use cases” in April, Chennakeshu said.

Over the past year, under the leadership of chief executive John Chen, the company has undergone a dramatic change in priorities and refocused mostly on large contracts with businesses, rather than chasing individual users.

Chennakeshu said the current systems used by the shipping industry are “a little archaic and not scalable.”

“It’s a very large business, in the tens of billions of dollars, with very low penetration.”

Chasing the trucking industry is only part of BlackBerry’s bigger plan for the Internet of Things platform, which incorporates technology made by QNX Software Systems Ltd., the division that already makes interactive systems built into vehicle dashboards.

BlackBerry also sees opportunity to sell similar technology to automakers, who could install sensors in cars to detect mechanical problems and notify drivers when they need to get their vehicle serviced.

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