RIM Woos Enterprise Customers With One Free BlackBerry 10 Handset Per Company — If They Start Getting Ready For BB10

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RIM’s latest move to shore up the remainder of its BlackBerry user base focuses on the enterprise segment. It’s announced a program to encourage businesses currently using BlackBerrys to start learning about the brave new world of BlackBerry 10: the next generation of its platform. BB10 is a complete OS reboot so the risk for RIM is that longtime BlackBerry users will be catapulted right out of their comfort zone — and into the arms of its rivals.

To mitigate this risk, RIM has announced a phased program for enterprise customers called the BlackBerry 10 Ready Program. Part of the program involves a giveaway of BlackBerry 10 handsets to companies who take steps to learn about BB10. It’s only one handset per company, while stocks last — and currently only for North American enterprise customers. (Although RIM says “additional countries are expected to follow with similar offers”.)

In order to get their free handset, BlackBerry enterprises customers must have BlackBerry Technical Support at the Advantage level or higher, and will need to install and run RIM’s mobile device management product, BlackBerry Mobile Fusion (which is say will be succeeded by BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10), and complete an online “learning course” to qualify. The offer expires at the end of February. Organizations who successfully jump through all RIM’s hoops will get a free BB10 smartphone when the OS launches, due at the end of January.

RIM is also launching a BB10 webcast series as part of the BlackBerry 10 Ready Program — as another way to prepare the ground for its business customers. It says the webcasts are “designed to share information, answer questions about RIM’s enterprise product portfolio, and prepare enterprise customers with the tools they need ahead of launch”.

In addition, RIM will be offering enterprise customers who buy BlackBerry 10 smartphones the ability to trade up their existing BlackBerry Enterprise Server licenses “on a one for one basis for free, until December 31, 2013″. The trade up can be done via an online tool that will be available in January.

Another component of the program — called the BlackBerry 10 Readiness Services — will also go live in January, offering a “set of services” — including change management and planning migration tools — to make it easier for business customers to migrate to BlackBerry 10.

“We remain committed to our enterprise customers and want to provide them with a head start on understanding the power of BlackBerry 10 and preparing their existing environments for the new mobile computing platform,” said Bryan Lee, Senior Director, Enterprise at RIM, in a statement. “The BlackBerry 10 Ready Program gives customers access to a variety of services, information, tools, and special offers to help ease their transition to BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10.”

In recent months RIM has been expending a lot of effort to try to encourage developers to get on board with BB10 and build the apps it needs to flesh out an ecosystem. But of course an ecosystem needs a health base of device users if it’s not to be dead in the water. RIM had only a 4.3 percent share of the global smartphone market in Q3, according to analyst IDC.