ATF to drop BlackBerrys and switch to iPhones

Starting this month, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) will begin replacing its BlackBerry smart phones with Apple iPhones.

The move was announced by Rick Holgate, the ATF’s chief technology officer in an interview with Politico. By the end of 2012, the bureau plans to swap out some 3,800 BlackBerrys. More than 60 percent of the replacement devices will be iPhones.

Initially, the transition kicks off in March with the replacement of some 2,400 BlackBerrys used by special agents in the field. The ATF is also considering phasing out some 1,400 remaining BlackBerry devices with a mix of other handhelds, Holgate told Politico. The bureau is also finishing a pilot program with some 200 iPads.

But before it signs off on the iPhones, Holgate said that the ATF will be beefing ups its mobile-device infrastructure by scaling up licensing and upgrading its mobile management software.

“The government has been very comfortable with the BlackBerry model for 10 years. Now we’re looking to move beyond that,” he told Politico.

In a sign of the continuing erosion of RIM’s government market, the ATF is now the second government agency to move away from BlackBerry.

In February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that it was switching over mostly to iPhones and iPads. NOAA CIO Joe Klimavicz told GCN that he was unsure if his organization would eliminate all of its BlackBerrys, but noted that the goal of the effort was to provide employees with a variety of wireless options.

NOAA has implemented Google Apps for Government, which makes it possible to manage cross-platform devices and eliminates the need for a third-party server, such as BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which it will support only through May 2012.

“It’s hard to ignore the direction the federal government is going with allowing a diversity of mobile devices into the environments,” Klimavicz said.

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