BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY ) has tried to reinvigorate itself over the past few years, but so far nothing has worked. The BB10 operating system didn't save the company and neither did the Z10 smartphone. But last month BlackBerry announced a new plan, called Project Ion, that could spur new growth for the company.
It's a big bet on the coming Internet of Things -- which Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO ) and General Electric (NYSE: GE ) are also knee-deep into -- and it could be one of BlackBerry's best chances at bringing back real value for its investors.
Why the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things is expected to connect billions of devices to the cloud, allowing massive amounts of data to be collected and analyzed by companies in order to improve efficiencies and create new ways of understanding device systems and data. Gartner estimates 26 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things, or IoT, by 2020. Cisco thinks that number could be as high as 50 billion by the same time -- with everything from cars to refrigerators to thermostats being connected.
U.S. cities are starting to dive into IoT, while China is already dominating the Internet of Things with its connected cities. But there's still plenty of countries and companies trying to figure out exactly how they'll enter this space, and how they can profit from it.
What Project Ion brings to the table
BlackBerry says Project Ion consists of three parts: a secure public information platform running its QNX software, facilitating an IoT ecosystem, and membership in the Industrial Internet Consortium. The first and third part of this project may be the most important.
BlackBerry will lean on its secure cloud back-end system to collect data being sent by connected devices. BlackBerry has long been known as a secure way to send information, and will use that knowledge to build out a platform for IoT. Its QNX software is already found in millions of vehicle infotainment systems and industrial and health care devices for collecting and displaying data, and the company plans on using that tech to connect millions of small devices as well.
The second important part of BlackBerry's Project Ion is teaming up with the Industrial Internet Consortium. Cisco, Intel, GE, IBM, and AT&T recently created the group and partnering with them could prove a wise choice for BlackBerry.
General Electric has a lot of experience in IoT, using its own Predix software to gather sensor information from machine to machine communications. Other companies are utilizing that software to save money, and GE predicts that IoT will bring anywhere between $10 trillion and 15 trillion to the global GDP over the next 20 years.
Cisco would be strong partner for BlackBerry in the IoT space as well. The company is betting big on the Internet of Thing and thinks both the public and private sectors have lots to gain. Cisco said last year the public sector could save $4.6 trillion over the next year by connecting water and waste management, public transportation, and other public sector areas to IoT.
Cisco also realizes there could be major hurdles to getting the Internet Things off the ground, including problems with security. The company's senior VP of Cisco's Security Business Group, Christopher Young, said earlier this year, "It is also, unfortunately, too easy to imagine how these world-changing developments could go terribly wrong when attacked or corrupted by bad actors."
That's one of the reasons why BlackBerry could prove instrumental in IoT, as it pairs with Cisco, GE and others to create security standards for the burgeoning industry.
Foolish final thoughts
BlackBerry's Project Ion is in beta mode right now and won't fully launch until early next year, so it's hard to say at this point that it will be the company's saving grace. Citron Research put out an investor report this month saying Project Ion and the Internet of Things could push BlackBerry's stock to $20 per share, up from its $10 right now. Clearly, that would be a huge spike for the company.
Though I believe IoT will have a huge impact on public and private sectors -- and already is -- it's a nascent sector and thus it's difficult to know who will ultimately become the big players. BlackBerry has a lot of opportunity, but their success will depend on how quickly QNX and its cloud system are adopted as an integral part of the Internet of Things. QNX is a well-known software platform in automotive, industrial and health sectors, but getting companies to utilize it for IoT is still a big unknown.
While Project Ion could be an integral part in boosting BlackBerry's stock position, I still think it's too early to make a bet on the company without seeing some real-world results from Project Ion. The company isn't the only one looking to build software and cloud services for IoT, and right now it's still anyone's game.
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