The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that — by next February — it will begin opening its communications networks to iOS- and Android-based mobile phones and tablets. The move can be seen as a major blow against BlackBerry (nee Research in Motion or RIM); the Pentagon has more than 450,000 BlackBerry devices.
BlackBerry 10 devices haven’t even hit the market in the U.S., though. As it struggles to regain market share it has lost to next-generation mobile platforms like Apple’s and Google’s, the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen-only device will go on sale in the U.S. next month.
The Z10 is already available in other parts of the world, having launched only recently. The keyboarded BlackBerry Q10 has yet to launch, but there are many fans of the famed BlackBerry keyboard that are awaiting its release. BlackBerry 10 is the company’s new OS, and was introduced publicly to the world — along with the Z10 and Q10 — on Jan. 30, 2013.
However, while the Pentagon has a lot already invested in BlackBerry devices, it says that — for the first time — it wants its employees to have the flexibility to use commercial mobile devices on its systems, including its classified network.
Defense Department chief information officer Teri Takai explained:
The Department of Defense is taking a leadership role in leveraging mobile device technology by ensuring its workforce is empowered with mobile devices. As today’s DoD personnel increasingly rely on mobile technology as a key capability enabler for joint force combat operations, the application of mobile technology into global operations, integration of secure and non-secure communications, and development of portable, cloud-enabled capability will dramatically increase the number of people able to collaborate and share information rapidly.
The DoD Mobile Device Strategy and Implementation Plan aim to align the various mobile devices, pilots and initiatives across the department under common objectives to ensure the warfighter benefits from these activities and aligns with efforts in the Joint Information Environment. This is not simply about embracing the newest technology — it is about keeping the department’s workforce relevant in an era when information accessibility and cybersecurity play a critical role in mission success.
Eventually, the Pentagon hopes its system will encompass both a military mobile applications store and be able to handle as many as eight million devices.
While it sounds like the Defense Department is heading down the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) path, Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said the Pentagon wasn’t going quite that far.
It’s not BYOD; it is the department migrating to a multi-vendor environment that is going to include more than BlackBerry currently. BYOD is a long-term objective, but we’re just not there yet. The technology is there, but things like security, we’re not quite there yet.
In other words, the Pentagon will continue supplying its employees with devices, rather opting for employees to bring their own; it sounds like the Pentagon is doing so because it doesn’t believe its employees would necessarily bring secure devices into the system if BYOD were implementation. To be clear, without testing, there is no way to know for certain; we have seen devices that unlocked when you slid out their keyboard.
That being said, the Pentagon believes that iOS and Android have come a long way and can finally meet the Department of Defense’s security requirements. Pickart added,
Other systems are maturing in their capability to provide greater security with their systems. The level of security with BlackBerry has been above most, but others are moving toward that and are achieving that.