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BlackBerry CEO says here to compete, regain lost ground

BlackBerry CEO says here to compete, regain lost ground

John Chen announces a new version of BES, free licenses for customers switching and new pricing

BlackBerry will launch a new version of its enterprise management server software later this year that the company hopes will strengthen its business with major corporations and help turn around its fortunes.

The software lets corporate IT managers handle deployment of services and manage security on BlackBerry phones used within their companies.

The new version, BlackBerry Enterprise Service version 12, is the first that handles all three iterations of its phone operating system: BlackBerry OS 5, OS 7 and 10. Until now, companies had been forced to run two versions of the software: BES 5 for the older OS 5 and OS 7 devices and BES 10 for the newer BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

"We listened to customers, they didn't want two infrastructures, they wanted one," John Chen, BlackBerry's CEO, said during a news conference at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Like its predecessor, BES 12 can also handle Android and Apple iOS devices and the new version adds support for Windows Phone 8 handsets. While still negligible in the U.S., the Microsoft operating system is gaining customers in Europe and developing markets.

BlackBerry's smartphones and enterprise management software was the gold standard in corporate IT for years, but when the company started stumbling and failed to keep up with smartphone innovations by Apple and Android phone makers, it started losing business to competing mobile device management (MDM) vendors.

"I'm hoping that we'll go after and take back some of the market share we lost while we were preoccupied," said Chen. "We are here to compete and take back some lost ground."

BES 12 will be available to customers at the end of 2014.

In the meantime, BlackBerry said it will offer free upgrades to customers currently running any version of its BES product to BES 10. Companies running software from competitors that switch to BES 10 will also be offered free use for the remainder of the year.

After that there will be two price plans: "silver" pricing of US$19 per user per year and "gold" pricing of $60 per user per year.

Silver provides device, application, email and security management for BlackBerry, iOS and Android devices and gold, which is targeted at regulated industries, adds the company's "Secure Work Space" containerization software for iOS and Android, and more advanced BlackBerry 10 management and security features.

Also targeted at enterprise users, a series of enhancements will be rolled out for the BBM messaging software. The first, BBM Protected, will be a secure messaging client with end-to-end encryption of messages aimed at regulated industries that need to keep logs of instant messages between employees.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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