Defense Department deals another blow to RIM
BlackBerry maker has to rebid for key contract as US government opens to Android and iOS, mounting pressure on BB10
Published: 1 November, 2012
Just ahead of its critical BlackBerry 10 roll-out, RIM has suffered another blow in its former stronghold in the US government. The Department of Defense has ended an exclusive contract with the Canadian firm and is opening up to Android and iOS devices.
The Pentagon insisted it would still use "large numbers" of BlackBerry devices and RIM's email and messaging system would remain one of its standards, though even in that area it is evolving to a multi-device system. It echoed the thoughts of so many once-loyal users about the platform - it has fallen behind Apple and Google in functionality and its famous security is no longer sufficient to guarantee exclusives.
According to Reuters, the massive department is asking other vendors to apply for a contract to provide software for monitoring, managing and enforcing military security requirements, and this is seen as part of a full multi-device strategy. A Pentagon spokesperson told the news agency that it was broadening its device base because it wanted to enable "new and innovative applications". The deal is likely to be awarded in April and the stakes are high - the first phase will involve one year and at least 162,500 devices; it could then be extended to four further six-month options, and a total of 262,500 devices. Eventually the software should support about 8m gadgets.
The organization said its enterprise email system would still support BlackBerry "while moving forward with the department's planned mobile management capability that will support a variety of mobility devices".
This follows other defections within the US government, once among RIM's largest and safest customers. For many years, BlackBerry was seen as the only option which could meet security needs in sensitive departments and the platform won many government exclusives. But several are coming to an end. Last week, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement department said it was replacing all its BlackBerry devices with iPhones, saying the RIM product could no longer keep up with its requirements.
Of course, just because RIM has to bid against rivals for the new DoD contract does not mean it can't win and it is relying on the greater functionality and the cloud focus of BB10 to keep it in some of its key bases. A RIM spokersperson told CNet: "We are confident that BlackBerry is, and will continue to be, the best solution for government agencies. BlackBerry brings unparalleled real time mobile access to police forces and the military to ensure public safety. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies rely on BlackBerry security for secure, mobile transmission of confidential information."
Meanwhile, RIM says it is testing BB10, which will appear commercially in the spring, in the labs of 50 carriers. This is an important step towards ensuring the platform will be market ready and that it will attract operator support. But RIM remains evasive about the actual launch date, making analysts fear that it will come towards the end of the promised first quarter, further delaying any sales impact.