As reported by the Times of India, the Pentagon will continue to use BlackBerry phones as their primary methods of communication, though it will move forward with plans to allow the U.S. military to permit employees to use other devices, including the iPhone. This article will explore BlackBerry’s use by governments across the world and discuss why some of the most security-conscious groups in the world maintain long-term commitments to BlackBerry products.
The U.S. government does not use thousands of BlackBerry devices solely because of the president’s penchant for a keyboard screen. Rather, each device used by the U.S. government must reach a certain level of certification on the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS). FIPS maintains high levels of encoding data and encryption standards essential for the transfer of classified information. BlackBerry’s closed operating system and sophisticated encryption ensures the safe safety of secure data and serves as the primary reason BlackBerry has long been a government favorite.
BlackBerry 10 devices, which will be available in early 2013, have already been granted FIPS certification by the U.S. government in their pre-release form, and the UK government is likely to follow suit with their own certification standards. BlackBerry is often considered the most secure mobile platform, confirmed by various studies from Trend Micro, Bloor Research and Altimeter Group. These studies considered factors including built-in security, device wipe, and firewalls. The BlackBerry phone’s superior security is contingent upon the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), RIM’s closed software package, which is strictly controlled and regulated.
As this is the first time BlackBerry’s products have received certification before release, it indicates a desire to hit the ground running once BlackBerry 10 is released, and begin shipping to the US government immediately. BlackBerry 7 received similar approval last May in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Though it is the BlackBerry smartphones which most popular with government employees, the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is also approved for government and law enforcement use.
The government sector has been not only one of the largest consumers of BlackBerry products, but also the most consistent, with orders for devices staying steady for several years. This loyalty is not only due to the focus of encryption, but because of financial considerations. BlackBerry prices are considerably cheaper than iPhones, and the IT departments of many governmental organizations are trained to repair BlackBerry devices, rendering an automatic (and expensive) learning curve if the standard devices are changed.
Security and price are not the only reason why government professionals prefer the BlackBerry, as the differences between the iPhone/Android and BlackBerry market run deeper than encryption methods and wallet size. While the iPhone and Android operating systems introduced a paradigm of app specialization, the BlackBerry has always been focused on clear email communication, a fundamental requirement of government work where many individuals are on call 24 hours a day. The keyboard on the traditional BlackBerry devices, as well as new releases like the BlackBerry Bold 3 smartphone, makes email communication easy and fast.
From a competitive BlackBerry price for products, to an unbeatable encryption standard, it’s not surprising that government agencies and businesses who place security above gadget trends have decided to remain with BlackBerry devices for the foreseeable future. While the market is certainly shifting, its strong showing in government industry, as well as the promise of the BlackBerry 10 platform may help shift the balance back in RIM’s direction.