BlackBerry Loses Another U.S. Agency, Immigration & Customs

After eight years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is parting ways with Research In Motion's BlackBerry and moving to iPhones. The switch will involve devices for 17,600 employees and US$2.1 million. ICE said BlackBerry "can no longer meet the mobile technology needs of the agency."

BlackBerry phone with a prohibited symbol

Reuters reported that the agency put out a solicitation document last week stating its intention to purchase iPhones, not BlackBerrys.

It's a familiar refrain. Last week, large U.S. government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton also dropped the devices. Before that it was Quantas airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the list goes on.

The agency reportedly did an analysis that showed iPhone, not BlackBerry or Android, to be better suited for the agency's needs for tight control of the devices and their data. We should probably emphasize that we're talking about "Homeland Security Investigations, Enforcement and Removal Operations, and Office of the Principal Legal Advisor employees."

Analysts are predicting that this will happen repeatedly from now on, even though RIM is still solid with its security. Ed Snyder, Charter Equity Research analyst, put it this way, "they still have excellent security … but if your handsets are a brick that no one wants to use, it's going to drag down your business."

Sterne Agee analyst, Shaw Wu, noted that faith in RIM's future, or the lack thereof, is also playing a role in the shift away from BlackBerry. In a research note, he asked rhetorically, "Is the company going to be around in the next couple of years?"

In the past, RIM's unique advantages included unprecedented email, security, and control features, which were big selling points for government agencies. However, with the improvement that Apple (and Android) has made in this area, that advantage has slipped away.

RIM is obviously disappointed by the move. Thorstein Heins, the company's CEO, has been busy promoting the upcoming BlackBerry 10 update that is now scheduled to be released early next year, after being pushed back a few times.