Securing Smart Cities Signals BlackBerry’s Digital Transformation


BlackBerry is offering up proprietary technology as a propositional standard for securing communications with connected vehicles, marking the latest step away from the production of once-ubiquitous handsets. As software and services continue to drive digital transformation, the company is diving deeper into the driverless transportation market.

BlackBerry’s Security Credential and Management System (SCMS)Opens a new window lets autonomous vehicles communicate with wired objects in the Intelligent Traffic Systems that are a pillar of the Smart Cities movement. Last month, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company said manufacturers and urban engineers could avail themselves of the SCMS at no cost.

By turning the tech out to the makers of everything from automobiles to traffic signals, the company hopes its SCMS will become the security standard in vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, just as its handsets were standard issue for business users a decade ago.

In it’s heyday, the company sold around half of all smartphones and turned over upwards of $20 billion annually. After being usurped by competing mobile device platformsOpens a new window and falling victim to security improvements that permit users to work on preferred handsets instead of on company phones and tablets, BlackBerry shifted focus.

The result is the company’s pioneering work to secure communications among edge devices, even as revenues have fallen off a cliff, failing to pass the $1 billion mark in 2018.

Cross-Spectrum Tech Fuels Driverless Efficiency

The Certicom tech that underpins the SCMS uses a hosted public key infrastructure that manages the certificates, both for enterprise customers and in ITS and Smart Cities ecosystems. BlackBerry says Certicom is designed to be both scalable and used across borders in transnational deployments.

The SCMS uses digital certificates to ensure that vehicles know they are communicating with other vehicles, as well as the roadside devices that control signals at intersections and crosswalks. They also draw data from the Internet of Things to plot courses and identify pedestrians.

The roadside transmitters enable ITS models to shepherd traffic with greater efficiency. Working together with onboard control systems in autonomous vehicles, they can gauge and moderate speeds to increase traffic throughput and improve safety.

Wired automobiles and roadside stations also connect with traffic management systems in the cloud, traffic management centers on the ground and with mobile devices at the edge. BlackBerry says the SCMS can identify and verify cloud platforms and edge devices in ITS ecosystems.

Navigating Connected Everything

The SCMS and the Certicom tech that underpins it are components of BlackBerry’s Spark platformOpens a new window , developed to facilitate communication among connected devices. Augmented in September to allow OEMs to embed secure tokens and certificates in their devices, the platform lets users control what the company calls “the Internet of Everything.”

V2X relies on both cellular and network communications to facilitate transmissions between autonomous vehicles and the myriad devices that include cameras and sensors but also Internet hotspots and smartphones they encounter en route. That number will get a boost not only as connected vehicles become commonplace, but with the rollout of 5G telecommunications.

5G’s expanded frequency widens the number of connected devices that comprise the Internet of Things. US carrier AT&T began implementing 5G in a dozen US cities last monthOpens a new window . According to the Visual Networking Index released in November by Silicon Valley-specialist Cisco Systems, the number of machine-to-machine connections will surpass 14 billion by 2022.

As a member of the OmniAir Consortium, BlackBerry collaborates routinely with manufacturers and leaders of Smart Cities initiatives. The Washington, D.C.-based group is tasked with facilitating interoperability in ITS, including in vehicles and toll road networks.

OmniAir certifies products and testing centers and BlackBerry is getting in on that act, as well. A facility in the Canadian capital of OttawaOpens a new window that opened in October 2017 features 10 miles of roads, replete with traffic signals and other roadside stations, stop signs and pedestrian crosswalks.

BlackBerry also works with vehicle makers and others in setting standards for wireless communications. Based in Munich, Germany, the 5G Automotive Association advocates for the adoption of cellular communications, rather than networked systems, as the preferred device-to-device foundation for ITS and autonomous vehicles.

Having taken an agnostic approach in its mission to create a platform for “ultra-secure hyperconnectivity from the kernel to the edge,” the company is working to accommodate a broad range of applications and use-cases. Among the upgrades released in September to the Spark suite are links with cloud providers Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and IBM.

Software accounted for around 90% of the company’s earnings in its latest quarterly report. Meanwhile, its QNX automotive software is gaining traction with both automakers and companies supplying the automotive industry with the chipsets needed to parse graphical data into actionable decisions.