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December 14, 2012

ICE Gives BlackBerry a Second Chance

A U.S. federal agency is giving the Blackberry another chance, after announcing in October it would ditch the Research in Motion (RIM) product in favor of the iPhone.

Two months ago, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) indicated it was planning to end its contract with Research In Motion and shell out $2.1 million to buy iPhones for its more than 17,600 employees.

Now, however, the ICE will try out the new range of BlackBerry 10 handsets, after the devices go on sale Jan. 30, to see if the new OS can meet its needs for security and mobility, RIM announced in a press release.  The agency will also test the BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES 10).

ICE press secretary Barbara Gonzales told CNET the agency, which has had a contract with RIM for eight years, plans to continue that relationship. ICE is planning to develop mobile applications for law enforcement and will review BlackBerry 10 to determine if it can provide a platform in the future.

“We’re not backing away from iOS, nor RIM,” Gonzales told CNet. “Given the nature of the rapidly evolving marketplace for computing and the rising expectations of our users for that technology, we see the need to maintain a set of services that support ICE’s mission. We feel the pilot is a prudent technology practice.”

The ICE said in October that the BlackBerry was no longer able meet the mobile technology needs of the agency. The agency had also said the iPhone would be used by a “variety of agency personnel, including, but not limited to, Homeland Security Investigations, Enforcement and Removal Operations and Office of the Principal Legal Advisor employees.”

If testing goes well, however, ICE is likely to continue its contract with RIM indefinitely.

“ICE has been a valued BlackBerry customer for years, and our commitment to government agencies has influenced the development of the BlackBerry 10 platform,” said Scott Totzke, senior vice-president, BlackBerry security.

“Along with providing workers with secure access to behind-the-firewall confidential information, BlackBerry 10 can help organizations fully leverage the potential of mobile technology to offer new services, improve service delivery and increase organizational productivity.”

RIM earlier this fall secured a key U.S. government security clearance, paving the way for the BlackBerry 10 to be the device of choice for the feds.

RIM said its BlackBerry 10 received it U.S. Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) certification. Translation: the devices can be used to send classified data between government employees.

This feature does give RIM a leg up over Apple — as long as its other features stand up to the ICE’s testing.

The ICE decision to give the BlackBerry another shot could influence other government agencies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), to do likewise.

The NTSB had also decided to switch to the iPhone because the BlackBerries the agency had given to its staff were “failing both at inopportune times and at an unacceptable rate.”

The BlackBerry 10 may be the beleaguered Ontario company’s last chance at redemption. RIM’s devices dominated the market at one time, but have since fallen victim to Apple’s iPhone and devices powered by Google’s Android operating system. With a net loss of $235 million in the last quarter, RIM desperately needs its new Smartphones to be a success.