Breaking up with BlackBerry is hard to do

Analysts consider it unlikely, but mobile e-mail addicts and IT managers should start planning for a possible BlackBerry service shutdown.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
There's no 12-step program for BlackBerry users--yet.

Should NTP prevail in its patent-infringement case against Research In Motion, it will force a shutdown of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail system. Consumers and companies addicted to their "CrackBerries" would have to go cold turkey off their wireless e-mail or invest time and money in a new provider.

Those addicts may have begun to sweat Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court closed another door on RIM's appeal hopes by declining to hear the case.

Numerous legal analysts believe that RIM won't risk the customer and investor wrath that could accompany the loss of BlackBerry service in the U.S. Many expect a settlement with NTP that gives RIM the right to continue selling devices and software in exchange for a hefty fee that will almost certainly top the $450 million settlement that was tentatively agreed to last March but later collapsed.

If RIM decides to endure the injunction, while hoping for a fast review of NTP's patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, then BlackBerry users must consider their options, according to Martin Reynolds, vice president at market research firm Gartner.

Gartner advised its clients in December to stop deploying new BlackBerry hardware and software, but it has since softened that stance, Reynolds said. Judge James Spencer's "5976776"="">late November rulings against RIM made it appear that a shutdown was imminent, but it now seems that people will be given a warning if the shutdown is to take place, he said.

NTP said last week that if it received the injunction, the company would permit a 30-day grace period before customers had to comply with the order, which would also apply to the various departments of the U.S. government that have filed briefs outlining their dependence on the technology.

However, 30 days is not a lot of time to implement new wireless e-mail software, Reynolds said. Alternative products are available from companies like Good Technology, Visto, Intellisync and Microsoft, but it could take months and a significant portion of an IT budget to deploy and test software before companies are comfortable with a new provider, he said.

Companies would also need to find a whole new fleet of devices to replace the BlackBerry handhelds, said Todd Kort, an analyst at Gartner. RIM makes both the software and devices for its service, and customers tend to like their BlackBerries, he said.

"RIM is the only end-to-end solution with devices, software and service. All the others are piecemeal solutions, and often everything else has some major flaw in that chain," Kort said.

But RIM's customers also have to deal with the fact that relying on a single provider can be risky in times of uncertainty, said Danny Shader, chief executive officer of Good Technology.

The litigation highlights that "you're getting it all from one company," Shader said in an interview Monday. "That's fine, but that's a risky strategy."

Good sells similar software that can run on a number of different devices and operating systems, while RIM's BlackBerry Connect software for devices other than RIM hardware has supported only the Symbian operating system. Support for Palm OS is coming soon, according to RIM's Web page.

Corporate BlackBerry users should be watching the developments in the case very closely, Reynolds said.

"If you believe your business cannot run without RIM, start looking at deploying other technologies and set up a small pilot," Reynolds said.

Looming over this case is RIM's mysterious "work-around," which company co-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie has brought up on several occasions as a possible solution to the entire dispute. All the company has said about this option is that it could be implemented in software and would allow service to continue uninterrupted.

CNET News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report from Washington.