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BlackBerry to go private in $4.7 billion deal

BlackBerry shareholders would receive $9 a share in the deal offered by a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings.

Sarah Tew/CNET

BlackBerry is going private.

BlackBerry Z30
Say hello to the new BlackBerry Z30. BlackBerry

BlackBerry said Monday that it had entered into a deal with a consortium led by Fairfax Financial Holdings that valued the company at $4.7 billion. Under the deal, shareholders would receive $9 a share in cash, a slight premium to the $8.23 that the stock is currently trading at.

The deal ends a great deal of uncertainty that surrounded the company, which warned on Friday that it would lose nearly $1 billion in the fiscal second quarter as it sought to pull back from the consumer smartphone market it helped create.

Fairfax intends to contribute its 10 percent stake in BlackBerry to the consortium. The consortium has until November 4 to complete its due diligence of the company's financial shape. During that period, BlackBerry has a right to entertain other offers.

Fairfax, for its part, believes there's still a future for the company. Fairfax CEO Prem Watsa said in a statement:

We believe this transaction will open an exciting new private chapter for BlackBerry, its customers, carriers and employees. We can deliver immediate value to shareholders, while we continue the execution of a long-term strategy in a private company with a focus on delivering superior and secure enterprise solutions to BlackBerry customers around the world.

Once closed, the deal marks a public end to a company whose phones were once seen as a status symbol among the corporate elite. Its BlackBerrys were as highly coveted as Apple's iPhones are today, and there was a point where few could predict a downturn.

But BlackBerry failed to move past the legacy operating system that got it into the smartphone game, and quickly fell behind Apple's iPhone and Google's Android operating system. The company's stock lost a staggering 94 percent of its value over the past five years, having hit a high of nearly $145 in 2008. After delays with bringing out BlackBerry 10, its next-generation operating system finally arrived earlier this year.

As it turned out, BlackBerry 10 came too late. The company opted to first sell its BlackBerry Z10, an all touch-screen phone that it hoped would better compete against the iPhone and Galaxy S phones of the world. That turned out to be a mistake -- a large reason for BlackBerry's most recent hefty loss was because of a write-down of unsold Z10s.

Even the keyboard-toting Q10 appealed to hardcore BlackBerry users, and few others. Even CEO Thorsten Heins' modest target of the No. 3 position in the mobile OS world seemed difficult to attain, particularly with Microsoft Windows Phone gaining a small bit of steam at the same time.

The last few quarters have painted a picture of how dire things are. Despite critical praise and some initial excitement, there appears little momentum and interest in BlackBerry smartphones. BlackBerry quietly released the larger Z30 last week, and other products appear to be in the pipeline thanks to some recent leaks.

By going private, BlackBerry will escape the public scrutiny that came with mounting a comeback. But it's unclear what the Fairfax consortium will do to help the company that Heins and his team already haven't tried. BlackBerry has already said it would stop focusing on consumers to target business users and "prosumers." That leaves its devices business up in the air.

Either way, the iconic BlackBerry phone may still end up with the same fate: fading away with a whimper.