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RIM's BlackBerry phones may lose public sector monopoly

BlackBerry manufacturer RIM has taken its fair share of blows this year, as we’ve watched the financially stricken company gradually unravel before our eyes. Now the British government is getting ready to kick the firm while it’s down, by ending its dominance of Whitehall’s mobile market.

In what has been a significant boon for the company, RIM’s BlackBerry devices are currently the phones of choice for the government as they are the only smartphones with impact level 3 (IL3) security accreditation, reports Computer Weekly. This means they were deemed secure enough to handle the sensitive data involved with government work.

But under the new Government Protective Marking System (GPMS), the IL1 to 3 categories are to be loosely merged to form Tier 1, as Whitehall considers opening its doors to alternative smartphone makers.

A government document seen by Computer Weekly hints at deploying rival devices like Apple’s iPhone or Samsung handsets, as officials seek the best commercial products to enable remote working for government employees. Computer Weekly cites sources that say the category changes are unlikely to come into effect until next year, but another mobile supplier is expected to win IL3 accreditation before the change anyhow, meaning RIM’s short-term government monopoly is on the line as well.

The news will come as a blow to RIM, which must have been confident of maintaining its influence within the public sector after an additional batch of its smartphones had their IL3 status granted as recently as May. Tech World reported that devices including the BlackBerry Bold 9900, BlackBerry Torch 9810 and Blackberry Curve 9380 were all approved by the government’s Communications-Electronics Security Group (CESG), but the change in grading system and emergence of alternative secure phones could now marginalise RIM’s range in the civil service and beyond.

Many manufacturers would be able to brush off a similar setback, but the scaling down of any revenue stream will hit RIM harder than most. The Canadian firm hopes to secure its precarious position by licensing out its highly anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system, a move which CEO Thorsten Heins says is imminent.