BlackBerry, the company that once dominated smart mobile devices, recently announced that it is finally cutting key services supporting its phones. From January 4, phones will no longer be provided with provisioning services, which means that they will gradually lose the ability to join networks, including the cellular network.
It might seem hard to imagine if you weren’t using cell phones back then, but BlackBerry once dominated the smartphone market. Its keyboard-based hardware was widely adopted in enterprise environments, in part because the services it provided typically ran through BlackBerry servers, allowing for high levels of security and control. An indication of its importance is that the first internal versions of Android looked like a cheap BlackBerry knockoff, rather than the cheap iPhone knockoff that was eventually released.
Unlike the people who developed Android, BlackBerry’s leadership was blindsided by the popularity of the iPhone. It moved away from on-screen keyboards and relied on its stranglehold on business services to maintain its market. It took over a year after the iPhone was released for the company to release its own touchscreen phone, and its software remained a clunky mix of old and new for some time after that. Meanwhile, corporate users fell in love with their Apple and Android phones and forced their IT departments to support them.
BlackBerry eventually ditched its own phones and started releasing versions of Android before exiting the hardware business altogether (it now mainly provides enterprise security services). The last version of the BlackBerry OS it released dates back to 2013, so the devices affected here are now extremely old. The promised support period actually ended over a year ago, so it has already exceeded its promises.
The effect of the end of support is detailed on an FAQ page hosted by the former device manufacturer. The key change is that BlackBerry will no longer send provisioning updates to these devices. Provisioning information provides details about how devices should establish connections with different types of network equipment, including cellular and Wi-Fi networks. network updates performed by service providers will mean that BlackBerry devices will no longer be able to connect. As a result, BlackBerry says its devices “will no longer be expected to operate reliably, including data, phone calls, text messages, and 9-1-1 functionality.”
There are a handful of software services that relied on connections to BlackBerry servers to function. So if you were relying on something like BlackBerry World or BlackBerry Link, those will stop working on the 4th.
The number of people likely to be affected by this is extremely small. Still, it serves as a clear marker of the end of what was once very important technology.