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BlackBerry seeks bigger fish with purchase of crisis-alerts firm AtHoc

The acquisition will give BlackBerry access to more corporations and government agencies that use AtHoc's crisis communications software.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen hopes to provide a richer experience to AtHoc's customers. Nate Ralph/CNET

BlackBerry is buying yet another company in a bid to bolster interest in its secure messaging services.

On Wednesday, BlackBerry announced that it will acquire AtHoc, a privately held company that provides secure, networked crisis communications to large companies and government agencies. AtHoc's services allow businesses to continue to communicate and collaborate with each other throughout emergencies.

What exactly will AtHoc bring to BlackBerry? More large-scale customers, for one. AtHoc's client base includes the US Department of Defense, US Department of Homeland Security and a range of public and private enterprise companies around the world, including health care providers and industrial sites. On the flip side, BlackBerry believes its BlackBerry Messenger service will enhance AtHoc's existing alerts system.

"AtHoc is an alerts system, but it also needs richer content and that can be provided by BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), which offers not just text, but voice, picture and video sharing, so we can provide a much richer experience to their clients," BlackBerry CEO John Chen told Reuters.

AtHoc's crisis communications software allows people to share critical information during emergencies when normal communications may be down. The software supports a variety of devices and platforms, including iOS, Android, PCs, Macs, radios and digital displays.

BlackBerry aims to integrate AtHoc's software into its own network to offer customers more options for secure business communications.

For example, BlackBerry Messenger Meetings, which lets BBM users attend virtual meetings, could incorporate AtHoc's software so that top-level personnel can send messages or appear on live video feeds to communicate during a crisis.

"BlackBerry is focused on enhancing our capabilities in security, privacy and the Internet of Things," BlackBerry Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard said in an interview posted on a BlackBerry blog. "We're making the move to acquire AtHoc, because we knew we could take a government-grade, secure software platform meant for crisis communication and enhance it with our current enterprise portfolio and trusted global network. And when we unite BlackBerry's experience and innovation with AtHoc's expertise and technology, we'll be able to deliver new solutions for safety, security and mission-critical business communications."

The AtHoc purchase is just the latest in a series of acquisition designed to feed BlackBerry's business and security offerings at a time when its mobile phone operations are still in the tank. In April, BlackBerry announced that it would acquire Israeli data security firm WatchDox, which uses rules to limit access to documents stored online. In June 2014, BlackBerry bought German mobile security firm Secusmart.

"AtHoc, with its messaging alerts, is the next piece in the puzzle," Chen told Reuters, saying that AtHoc has some large clients that will compliment BlackBerry's own customer base.

The terms of the deal, which is expected to close by November, were not revealed.