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BlackBerry 10 gains U.S. security clearance

BlackBerrys are facing competition in the government sector from other smartphones.

VALENTIN FLAURAUD/REUTERS

Before Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry 10 phones have even launched, the devices have received the crucial security certification needed for use by federal agencies in the United States.

Whether those government agencies and departments actually deploy the newest BlackBerry smartphones, amid increasing government and corporate use of iPhones and Android devices, is another question.

Like many companies supplementing their fleets of aging BlackBerrys, U.S. government departments have started to use third-party security software that allows them to give employees a choice of smartphones.

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for example, recently said that although some of its 20,000 employees would continue to use BlackBerrys, the department will start rolling out software from Good Technology that allows employees to use iPhones from Apple Inc., phones running Google Inc.'s Android software and Windows Phone devices.

"ICE conducted an analysis and concluded that smartphone solutions running the Good Technology application offered the best support for our mission needs moving forward," the department said in a statement.

But Paul Lucier, RIM vice-president for global government solutions, said the Waterloo, Ont.-based company's government customer base is not shrinking. "We have a million [government] customers in North America and that base is very stable," Mr. Lucier said in an interview Wednesday, noting that RIM's overall global subscriber count has grown to more than 80 million.

"This is a complete platform play, and it's a huge transformation. It's not about just the device. The device is the first thing. We'll have tablets later on, and other devices later on."

The certification, known as FIPS (for federal information processing standard), came a day after RIM shares dropped more than 9 per cent, following a report by Pacific Crest Securities analyst James Faucette that BlackBerry 10 phones are "likely to be DOA" – dead on arrival.

U.S. government agencies, along with big firms on Wall Street, were some of RIM's earliest clients, and helped launch its global success. They remain some of the most valuable, high-margin clients, but RIM's dominance of this sector has begun to erode. The Pentagon will allow the U.S. military to use non-BlackBerry smartphones, according to recent reports, and earlier this year both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they would start switching to other devices. Big companies have also started to make the switch: Global energy services giant Halliburton has said it will switch to iPhones.

After years of supplying software that allowed IT departments to manage only BlackBerrys, RIM launched new software, called Mobile Fusion, that allows its customers to manage non-BlackBerry smartphones.

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