Ex-RIM CEO sought to transform company into network provider before ouster

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RIM's former co-chief executive Jim Balsillie wanted to use his company's network to offer inexpensive data plans and services to non-BlackBerry devices, but the plan never gained traction before he stepped down.

Balsillie's "radical" plan, detailed by two sources who spoke with Reuters, would have let existing carriers offer cheaper data plans limited to social media and instant messaging. The idea was the service would entice users of traditional cellphones to upgrade to smartphones without having to pay for a costly data plan.

The strategy would have been a major shift for the company, which currently only offers its BlackBerry Messenger service on RIM-made BlackBerry devices, much like Apple's iMessages are only available on Apple hardware. Through the package, users would have been able to use BlackBerry Messenger on non-BlackBerry devices, and also would have had "limited" access to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.

Services would have been provided to handsets through existing carriers in North America and Europe. But traffic for the limited services would have been routed through RIM's proprietary network.

But RIM's own networks, restricted solely to BlackBerry users, saw serious outages last October and November, preventing users from accessing Messenger chats and e-mails around the world.

Balsillie's plan got as far as early discussions with carriers, but Wednesday's report said the talks "led to discord at the highest levels" of RIM. He stepped down as CEO in January, and ultimately left the company entirely in March.

This week it was revealed that RIM is looking to hire a financial adviser to assist the company in weighing strategic options going forward. The struggling smartphone maker is hoping to turn around its plummeting business by either licensing the BlackBerry operating system to third-party hardware makers, or taking strategic investments in the company from outside backers.

RIM's struggles have become so pronounced that the company is even being outsoldin its home country of Canada by Apple's iPhone. Last year, Apple shipped 2.85 million iPhones in Canada, while RIM shipped just 2.08 million BlackBerrys.