BlackBerry federal use 'up', but its niche market days are over

BlackBerry federal use 'up', but its niche market days are over

Summary: While one RIM executive believes BlackBerry still holds the niche government market, competing Android and iPhone devices seeking security certification could really rock the boat.


While BlackBerry maker Research in Motion reels from the news that comScore's latest figures show HTC knocking the company off the top five list in a further dwindling of U.S. mobile market share, the company was seemingly quick to state that its BlackBerry smartphones are still useful for what they were intended for: governments.

Scott Totzke, RIM senior vice-president of BlackBerry security, who orchestrates the sale of the company's smartphones to the U.S. government, says optimistically that sales are generally on the "up", reports Bloomberg.

"Compared to the enterprise over the last year and a half or so, the federal business on whole is up,” he said. “The employee base is shrinking, so if we’re looking at a market with fewer employees and our install base is stable to slightly up, that would seem to indicate that we have an increasing market share."

All good and well, considering the leader of the free world retained his BlackBerry despite government officials warning against it. The fact remains that the BlackBerry, when hooked up to the enterprise server network, remains one of the most secure devices ever made.

But others are catching up, and therein lies the rub, as AllThingsD reports.

The humble BlackBerry was awarded FIPS-140-2 certification, required by U.S. law for security necessary in federal government. It is also the only platform to be "recommended" fit for medium-grade government secure functions by the CESG, the IT security group, a side project of the UK's third intelligence agency, GCHQ. Government issued BlackBerrys use 3DES and AES for data traffic and the encryption of local data, ensuring that secret material stays classified.

Meanwhile, the UK government continues its ban of iPhones for work communications due to its lack of CESG certification, despite the smartphone being technically capable of non-national security related secure transmissions.

But other non-BlackBerry phones, including a handful of Android devices are now capable of secure government use, and Apple is reportedly seeking certification for the iPhone. Just because it isn't yet certified doesn't mean the device isn't already capable. It just needs the stamp of a government official.

With this, governments don't need to keep their contracts with RIM if it doesn't want to. It could, but in an age of austerity and budget cuts, governments need to save what they can. If Android sits as a better option for the taxpayers, then so be it.

With bring-your-own-device policies, and so many opting to buy Android and iPhones, turning their consumer backs on the BlackBerry brand, RIM could be in for even more of a turbulent time with its government partners.



Topics: Government US, Government, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, BlackBerry

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  • They're in trouble with my employer...

    I work for a major East coast state university, and we are in the process of switching from Lotus Domino/Notes to Google Apps for Education, and getting away from BB phones. Several years ago, BB was our basically our choice for smartphones, now Android & iPhones are available from our carrier also, as well as BYODs.

    With 15k+ potential faculty & staff users...doesn't bode well for BB as far as we are concerned.
  • The Fed Food Trough

    Every colossus eventually crashes. It used to take centuries but then it took IBM just a few decades. Microsoft lasted two? decades before it was overshadowed by Google. So who were Research In Motion; certainly not an all dominating monolith when measured against the aforementioned.

    The BlackBerry may survive or may not; it's of transient importance (unless you are Canadian), but I suspect that its best features will survive; Messenger, the security features, possibly their much loved qwerty keyboard. It's just unlikely that they will carry the BlackBerry logo.
  • Title backwards?

    I'd say Blackberry is heading to being a Niche again as that is what they were. RIM is a secure messaging device. This is why corporations and goverments use them to this day. You have full control of the device and all traffic is encrypted.

    iOS and everything else is purely consumer focused and the OS are easily cracked (Root / Jailbreak). Readily available tools allow anyone to copy a iPhone or Android device in a matter of minutes. Apple has done much to extend API's to allow iOS to be secured but that has cost and infrastrucutre JUST like BES / RIM so your trading one for the other.

    RIM never asked for consumer support, consumers adopted as they saw celeberties and important people using them and wanted to emulate.

    My daily driver is the Bold Touch 9930, it's the best messaging device on the planet and the internet browser matches anything on the market. Now yes Blackberry lacks Apps but I also have an iPhone 4S, EVO and iPad to fill that need. I don't play games on my phone nor do I want this huge 4"+ screen and look like a doofus when I talk on it. Blackberry has better voice quality as well so for those that value a solid PDA/Phone, Blackberry is still very valid. Is that a niche? Likely - everything has a niche.

    People seems to forget Apple is the ultimate niche in the PC world. I've had Apple pc's long before they sold them in hip stores to people that use them for glorified iTunes machines.
  • App today, gone tomorrow.

    Almost everyone seems to be working under the assumption that the current "App craze" will continue indefinitely and I think it is, with that very assumption, the more myopically gifted individuals amongst us base their dire predictions of RIM's demise. Personally, I'm pretty much fed up with Apps, I have absolutely no need, nor any desire, to have a phone full of frivolous Apps that I never use. There are indeed some very useful and appropriate apps that are ideally suited to a mobile phones form factor, but I hardly think there are 400,000, or 500,000, or God forbid 700,000 of them. No, I think if you could find 4,000 really useful and appropriately designed Apps for mobile phones you'd be doing extremely well. Now, if the "App craze" fades into history, as all crazes do, what advantage does the iPhone, or any of the Androids have over the BlackBerry?

    As a phone, the BlackBerry outperforms both the iPhone and the Androids, as it does in both Messaging and Security. Any feature where the BlackBerry does lag behind the others, is generally a hardware deficiency that can usually be remedied when the next model is released - just like any other phone. In my opinion, the reason all the manufacturers are scrambling to secure patents, is because they know that eventually it may be their only way to distinguish their products from that of their competitors.

    Another way to differentiate their products will be through the integration of phone, tablet and desktop; something both Apple and Microsoft are currently addressing and I would guess Androids recent reunification with Linux is similarly motivated. What RIM intends to do in this respect, is the really interesting question. With the adoption of the QNX based OS for RIM's tablets and upcoming phones, the phone-to-tablet integration will not be a problem; in fact I wouldn't be surprised if it was best in class. As QNX is a Posix compliant OS, one might naturally assume a Linux, or even a Mac OS X partnership might be on the horizon for RIM's products. But then again, RIM has always had a very good working relationship with Microsoft and in the business world, Microsoft products still rule the roost.

    Given RIM's recently stated desire to return to their core strengths: serving the needs of corporations and governments, I think it is more then likely that we will see an even stronger relationship develop between RIM and Microsoft. With that in mind, I think a recent rumour may have a little more substance to it then most of us think.