BlackBerry will face increased competition from Samsung and Apple as the Pentagon approves both for use in Defence Department.
While smartphone battle rages on a lot of fronts, the battle to equip the US defence forces is seen as one of the most important for companies looking for the seal of approval which could open up a huge new market for them.
BlackBerry has long been the leader in this field with the vast majority of the Pentagon's 600,000 smartphone users carrying around a BlackBerry devcie. And while the copmpany's new platform, BlackBerry 10 and the BlackBerry Playbook using its Enterprise Service 10 system have been approved for use within the Defence Department as of Thursday, the Canadian company is no longer the only player in the market.
As well as approving BlackBerry's new platform, the Pentagon announced Samsung smartphones running its Knox security software have also been approved and earlier this week it announced that it expected Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad which are running iOS 6 to also get the green light.
It means that individuals and departments with the Department of Defense (DoD)will have the choice to use whatever device they want from the newly-engorged list of approved smartphones and tablets. It will mean that a significant slice of BlackBerry's traditional user base could be eroded as DoD staff look to use the better known and more popular Samsung and Apple products.
Significant step forward
"This is a significant step towards establishing a multi-vendor environment that supports a variety of state-of-the-art devices and operating systems," Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
The phenomenon of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) has long been a security issue for private enterprise organisations with everyone from the CEO down looking to use their personal devices at work. It has led to a range of security problems as IT departments struggle to manage devices running a range of software from a range of manufacturers, having been used to controlling a single device all runnign the same software.
Android in particular is seen as having poor security credentials, with numerous examples of malicious apps appearing in the Google Play store.
That is why the Pentagon has only approved smartphones and tablets running Samsung's new Knox security software. The software promises to add a range of security features to your smartphone including the ability to limit the apps which can be installed on the device, the ability to encrypt sensitive data and the ability for IT departments to centrally manage a fleet of devices.
The Knox security suite was meant to debut on the company's flagship smartphone for 2013, the Galaxy S4, having initially been shown off at Mobile World Congress in February. However Samsung has delayed its launch and while there is no official word from Samsung regarding a new release date, various reports suggest it could be as late as July.
BlackBerry 10 launched in January and the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone is already on sale in the US, while the Q10 - featuring that iconic physical Qwerty keyboard - will be available by the end of the month.
Feather in the cap
Approval by the Pentagon will be seen as a big feather in the caps of Apple and Samsung as they look to increase their market share of the enterprise market which to date has been dominated by BlackBerry.
The Pentagon currently has some 600,000 users of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. The department has 470,000 BlackBerry users, 41,000 Apple users and 8,700 people with Android devices. Most Apple and Android systems are in pilot or test programs.
The move to open up the networks to a broader array of mobile devices is part of a Pentagon effort to ensure the military has access to the latest communications technology without locking itself in to a particular equipment vendor.
To ensure security, mobile devices and operating systems go through a security review process approved by the Defense Information Systems Agency. Once their Security Technical Implementation Guide - or STIG - is reviewed and approved, the devices can be used on the network.
Pickart said the decision on Thursday did not result in product orders. But it will enable user groups within the Pentagon to purchase the devices most appropriate for their work as the need arises.
"We are pleased to add Blackberry 10 and the Samsung Knox version of Android to our family of mobile devices supporting the Department of Defense," he said. "We look forward to additional vendors also participating in this process."