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Familiar ring: Blackberry touts reliability of asset-tracking device 

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The Blackberry was a status symbol 15 years ago. It was iconic enough that a new U.S. president was concerned he wasn’t going to be able to keep his. 

Alas, Apple and others knocked Blackberry off its cellphone perch and the company pivoted. With that much knowledge of software and, in particular, secure communications — which was always a strong Blackberry selling point — the company became a supplier of software that specialized in cybersecurity.

But it also got into the logistics space. Now its logistics product, Radar, is the only hardware sold by Blackberry, a name that became famous because of a product you could touch. Everything else Blackberry does is either software or services.

Blackberry Radar was at the recent exposition of the Intermodal Association of North America in Long Beach, California. The company’s senior vice president and general manager, Christopher Plaat, said the asset-tracking capabilities of Radar are in a highly competitive field in which Blackberry and others all try to distinguish themselves.

“When Blackberry reached out to me several years ago, I was interested because of the name Blackberry and the great reputation they had in the marketplace and the brand recognition,” Plaat said in an interview with FreightWaves at the IANA expo. “But as I learned that Blackberry was moving into the internet of things (IoT) space, specifically in supply chain visibility with asset tracking, that piqued my interest further.”

Plaat, whose previous experiences include lengthy stints at Qualcomm and Omnitracs, said data from the Radar system, which he described as an “end-to-end asset tracking and monitoring solution,” can be integrated into visibility systems like that of Four Kites or various TMS systems.

The tracking device, which Plaat said provides “secure and reliable communications and an innovative user interface,” typically is installed in a trailer, though it can be used in other equipment.

Plaat stressed the range of data that the Blackberry Radar tracker can gather. The readings coming off the sensor produce data about mileage, door open and close alerts, movements of containers on and off chassis, and GPS information. 

In a crowded field of asset-tracking products, reliability is crucial, he said. “You want to be able to attach the device and you want it to report accurately for five years.”

Blackberry is standing out by “differentiating ourselves with extremely reliable information that is consumable and actionsable in simple terms,” Plaat said. 

Locating the asset, like a trailer, is “always No. 1,” he said, but the geofencing capabilities of Radar include such data as how long an asset was in detention at a particular facility, information that can be used for a carrier to steer clear or or have fewer interactions with a particular shipper or warehouse. 

Blackberry Radar was awarded the Vehicle Telematics Solution of the Year in 2019 from IoT Breakthrough, an independent recognition competition that bestows that honor on IoT solutions in a wide variety of categories every year. 

Plaat said there are no current plans to move into a significantly wider realm of the supply chain, but Blackberry is looking to move Radar into such activities as yard management.

Radar is a relatively small operation, Plaat said, with roughly 60 people. Of that, 40 are in development, with an equal split between hardware and software. Some of those software developers “go back to the phone days.”

The market for IoT tracking devices in trailers is about 50% penetrated, Plaat said, noting that the intermodal sector has a “very low penetration for asset tracking.” 

The cost of a device is a “couple of hundred dollars per month” on average, he said, and the cost point is the basis for resistance.

“I’m telling them that the cost of the assets has increased dramatically over the past few years,” Plaat said, describing his sales pitch. “Trailers and the cost of chassis have jumped and there are equipment shortages. “So the ROI on utilizing your assets more effectively is very strong.”

The cost of the tracking asset remains the barrier, but tracking assets cost half of what they did eight years ago, he added.

“There is so much data that it is very important to come up with practical solutions that companies can implement,” he said. “You need to take all the data and make it actionable.”

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