Defense Department drops exclusive contract for BlackBerry

Still using Research In Motion devices for e-mail, the Pentagon also seeks software from Apple and Google that has the capability for "new and innovative applications," Reuters reports.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has been dealt another blow by the U.S. government. The U.S. Defense Department recently announced that it is opening its exclusive contract with the company to other device makers, including Apple and Google.

According to Reuters, the Pentagon said it would still use "large numbers" of BlackBerry smartphones but that it was also asking other companies to apply for a government contract to provide software that is capable of monitoring, managing, and enforcing U.S. military security requirements.

A Pentagon spokesperson told Reuters that it was broadening its reach with device makers because it wanted to increase the military's use of "new and innovative applications." However, the Defense Department isn't totally leaving RIM in the dust either.

"DISA is managing an enterprise e-mail capability that continues to support large numbers of RIM devices while moving forward with the department's planned mobile management capability that will support a variety of mobility devices," the spokesperson told Reuters.

Even though the Pentagon isn't completely dropping RIM, this news piles on top of other setbacks for the device maker. Last week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced it was dropping all of its BlackBerry devices and replacing them with Apple's iPhone. The agency said the reason was because RIM's smartphone could not keep up with its needs.

RIM has enjoyed many exclusive contracts with different U.S. government agencies over the years. Various iterations of the BlackBerry have provided the high-level security requirements needed by the government. However, at this point, it looks like tight security just isn't enough. Fast browsers, app capabilities, and bigger touch screens also come in handy to government personnel.

Even though the government is opening up the bidding to Apple and Google, it's still possible that RIM will be awarded the Defense Department contract. RIM's vice president of government solutions Paul Lucier is optimistic.

"We are confident that BlackBerry is, and will continue to be, the best solution for government agencies," he told CNET. "BlackBerry brings unparalleled real-time mobile access to police forces and the military to ensure public safety. It has proven time again to be the most available and reliable communications channel during natural disasters and for first-responders. More than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies rely on BlackBerry security for secure, mobile transmission of confidential information."

According to Reuters, the Pentagon contract will most likely be awarded in April. It would start with a year and the requirement of at least 162,500 devices; it could then be extended to four more six-month long options, which would include up to a total of 262,500 devices. The government said that eventually it wants the software to support 8 million devices.

 

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