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U.S. Government Support Won’t Save BlackBerry

Blackberry/RIM logoThe fact that the U.S. government is not about to abandon the BlackBerry as its smartphone of choice is a bit of good news for Research In Motion, a company that hasn’t had much to cheer about lately. But it is unlikely to help much in the long run, let alone provide salvation for RIM.

RIM got a giant leg up in the government market by building security deep into the design of both BlackBerry handsets and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). For a long time it was the only mobile messaging device with Federal Information Processing Standard certification to handle “sensitive” government information, the highest level for unclassified data. But as in other areas, the competition hasn’t been standing still. Apple has been working hard at upgrading iOS security and is awaiting native FIPS approval for the iPhone and iPad. Good Technology offers FIPS-certified messaging systems that provide BES-like services to iOS devices, Android, and Windows Phone.  The National Security Agency has developed a secure version of Android for federal sector use.

The government will be sticking with BlackBerry  because it already owns many thousands of them. Money is always tight, and the feds tend to hang on to hardware for as long as they can. But I don’t see much evidence that the government is buying a lot of new BlackBerrys. And a quick perusal of shows lots of solicitations for Android and iOS software development projects, an ill omen for RIM.

The federal government is more successful than the private sector at resisting bring-your-own-device initiatives–not even the most senior officials can defy security rules and Federal Acquisition Regulations–and it remains a very conservative buyer. But over time, I expect to see it shift its emphasis away from BlackBerrys. RIM will continue to collect monthly fees for BES services, but the RIM’s days os the fed’s darling seem numbered.


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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

4 thoughts on “U.S. Government Support Won’t Save BlackBerry”

  1. First, I agree with the author that this decision will not save RIM. It’s like one small part of the dike standing firm while the rest crumbles to pieces.

    Second, I expect this decision to be reversed sooner rather than later as pressure is applied to update the “antiquated” existing Blackberry phones.

    Third, if anyone can show me a scenario in which RIM survives all of this, I would be pleased to read it. I can envisage no way that they can escape this death spiral (absent a sale, which is the end of RIM too). If you can see a way out for RIM, please enlighten me.

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