Chinese whispers as Lenovo’s BlackBerry talks rebutted

Nov 5, 2013

As reported earlier on TelecomTV, BlackBerry failed to sell its business to either Fairfax Holdings or the Qualcomm-backed consortium. But it has emerged that Chinese tech company Lenovo also investigated a BlackBerry bid, but the Canadian government stepped in to ensure the plan was rejected before it even got off the ground.

Canada’s Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government told BlackBerry’s management it would not accept a takeover by the Beijing-based Lenovo Group because of national security concerns. In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, telecoms has become a touchy subject, and any possibility of a foreign power getting access to a country’s telecoms infrastructure is never going to happen.

Such was the determination of the government to rebut the deal that a formal proposal was never received.

It’s not the first time that the Canadian government has stepped in to derail a telecoms deal. In October, it rejected a $520m bid from Egypt’s Naguib Sawiris to buy Allstream from Manitoba Telecom Services because of unspecified national security concerns. Industry Minister James Moore alluded that it was because Allstream’s national fibre-optic network provides critical services to businesses and governments.

“I am finished with Canada,” an angry Sawiris told the Al-Ahram news group, explaining that he invested in Canada five years ago when he launched Wind Mobile. “The world is big and my money can go anywhere. I regret that we wanted to invest in Canada.”

Lenovo could well have been a good home for BlackBerry’s business, as the Chinese vendor already has a smartphone business and is looking to expand globally. The Globe and Mail cites ‘sources’ saying that Lenovo was very interested and would likely have been willing to buy BlackBerry. However, a government-led security review could take months or even years to conclude – time BlackBerry doesn’t have.

The newspaper quotes a government source as saying: “I don’t think anybody should be surprised that we would have concerns like that. We have been pretty consistent that the message is Canada is open to foreign investment and investment from China in particular but not at the cost of compromising national security.”

Bit of a mixed message there.

Perhaps the Canadian government misheard. Perhaps Lenovo didn’t say “Buy BlackBerry,” but actually said “Bye BlackBerry”. We may never know…

Oh, and as for actor/tech investor Ashton Kutcher, he was appointed by Lenovo last week as a new ‘product engineer’. Yes, a product engineer. Not a celebrity endorser or brand champion, but an actual engineer.

“This partnership goes beyond traditional bounds by deeply integrating him into our organisation as a product engineer,” said David Roman, chief marketing officer at Lenovo. “Ashton will help us break new ground by challenging assumptions, bringing new perspective and contributing his technical expertise to Yoga Tablet and other devices.”

Er… okay.

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