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BlackBerry 7 smartphones approved for DOD use

Launched in January, newer RIM phones offer Department of Defense personnel access to NFC and other features

Research in Motion's BlackBerry 7 smartphones have been approved for use by Department of Defense operations, the company announced.

The DOD approval will enable Army and other U.S. military personnel to utilize several features in the BlackBerry 7, including voice-activated universal search, Near Field Communication, augmented reality and social networking feeds, RIM said on Wednesday.

The DOD decision allows for its personnel to use: the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 smartphones that include both touchscreens and physical keyboards; the BlackBerry Torch 9810 device that has a touchscreen and slide-out physical keyboard; the BlackBerry Torch 9850 and 9860 models with a touchscreen; and the BlackBerry Curve 9360 smartphone with its physical keyboard.

The new smartphones were evaluated by the U.S. Army and Defense Information Systems Agency and then listed on DISA's United Communications Approved Product List.

Meanwhile, RIM announced on Feb. 1 that the U.S National Institutes of Standards awarded FIPS 140-2 certification to the phones.

Scot Totzke, senior vice president of BlackBerry Security, said RIM smartphones have both the FIPS 140-2 certification and the Common Criteria EAL4+ accreditation.

A key component of RIM security for years has been the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, used by businesses and governments to pass sensitive data from wireless smartphones through a secure corporate firewall.

Despite a reputation for strong security, the release of RIM's latest batch of BlackBerry smartphones has been mostly overshadowed by recent upheaval in the RIM executive suites.

Nonetheless, DoD certification for the BlackBerry 7 phones is "indeed important," noted analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates.

"Is this a big deal for consumers? No. But for many companies where security is critical, such as in the financial industry, RIM's message that if it's good enough for the DoD and other government agencies, it is certainly good enough for you, is amplified."

RIM's round of executive changes, primarily made due to a decline in its global smartphone market share and delays in the rollout of its next-generation BlackBerry operating system, BlackBerry 10, include the appointment of new CEO Thorstein Heins in February.

Analysts and IT managers often praise RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server and tradition of strong smartphone security, but have also been critical of the company for its inability to keep up with consumer demands for a smartphone touchscreen and Web browser that can compete with the more popular iPhone and Android smartphones.

An October 2011 near-global outage of important BlackBerry network applications also cost RIM some government and enterprise customers, analysts and customers have said.

The DoD certification of the new RIM smartphones "won't really affect BlackBerry's perceived uncoolness for end users, compared to the iPhone and Android," Gold said. "But it certainly will be reassuring for IT types."

On Tuesday, RIM announced the appointment of a new Chief Operating Officer, former Sony Mobile Communications executive Kristian Tear, and a new Chief Marketing Officer, former LightSquared official Frank Boulben.

Boulben, who fills a CMO post that's been vacant for more than a year, is charged with shoring up RIM's consumer image.

Heins unveiled the important BlackBerry 10 platform on May 1, but didn't say when the smartphones that run it will ship. An early fall launch is considered crucial for RIM's future.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.


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