AT&T (NYSE: T) and Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) are making a concerted effort to woo small businesses to the BlackBerry, hoping to entice them with a cheaper and easier-to-deploy version of the software already in wide use in large enterprises.
The BlackBerry Professional Software, aimed at small and midsized companies with up to 30 users, offers the full suite of features found on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server software -- such as mobile e-mail, calendar, contacts, business data and Internet access to end-to-end security encryption.
Unlike the enterprise version, however, the new offering doesn't require a dedicated RIM server. It can be installed on preexisting e-mail servers, including Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange or Windows Small Business Server.
Predefined IT policies help to further reduce the complexity of setting up BlackBerry service. The policies enable office managers to limit certain features on an employee's smartphone, lock down stolen smartphones, set owner-information settings and control password use. If an administrator makes changes to the policies, they are wirelessly deployed to the devices.
AT&T and RIM are selling the offering in five- and ten-user packages, for $499 to $849 -- enabling small businesses to use the service far more cheaply than the larger and more expensive enterprise deployment.
Cutting down on the cost and deployment complexity may help erase some of the hurdles thwarting SMB BlackBerry adoption, according to experts.
"This will drive more adoption as it's easier to use -- there's no infrastructure to setup and it has an easy wizard tool for deployment," Carrie MacGillivray, a senior analyst at IDC, told InternetNews.com. "This provides a tool to get [SMB] users up and running."
Those are critical factors facing small companies, which are often hard-pressed to find business-grade solutions that they can afford and support.
"Basically, smaller businesses still have wireless e-mail needs, but generally don't have IT departments to install and maintain complex e-mail systems," Jack Gold, analyst, J. Gold Associates, told InternetNews.com.
AT&T said a fall survey of SMB users showed that 80 percent depend on wireless technology for business needs.
"Small and midsized business need voice and e-mail to do business, and this solution fits the needs of legal firms, to small financial companies, to catering companies," Chris Hall, senior director of BlackBerry offers at AT&T, told InternetNews.com.
Additionally, once an SMB deployment exceeds 30 users, the application can be upgraded to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server -- enabling scenarios like trial use of the service before shelling out for the full enterprise offering, Hall said.
If RIM's approach proves successful, it would further strengthen the BlackBerry's dominating lead in smartphone adoption. A recent survey from ChangeWave Research found RIM accounts for 73 percent of corporate smartphone purchases.
The popular e-mail device also holds 42 percent of the market among consumer smartphone users.
"This is a good way for AT&T to sell more smartphones, while offering their clients a way to enable wireless e-mail, and with little or no risk to AT&T in having to offer additional services they may not be geared up to do," Gold said.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.