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Pentagon to open networks to iOS, Android devices in 2014

The U.S. Department of Defense will open its networks to smartphones and tablets from Apple and Android device manufacturers beginning in February of 2014, as one of the nation's largest employers expands beyond BlackBerry and into a more "platform agnostic" IT policy.

The Department of Defense on Tuesday released a new plan for speeding adoption of mobile devices — both secure classified and unclassified — as well as applications. The goal for the Department is to establish wireless voice, video, and data capabilities by October of 2013, with wider device availability beginning next year.

One component of the DoD's plan will be to move away from its current BlackBerry standard and toward a more "platform agnostic" policy, integrating devices running Apple's iOS as well as Google's Android operating system. A DoD representative told AppleInsider that this does not mean a full abandonment of BlackBerry's platform, as was the case with other large organizations such as Home Depot.

"It won't be a shotgun approach, where everyone gets the same apps and devices," said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, speaking with AppleInsider. "The key takeaway is that it's a multi-vendor solution. We will have a DoD-wide device management system and a DoD-wide app storefront."

Currently, the Department has just over 600,000 mobile devices in use in both standard operations and pilot programs. That includes roughly 470,000 BlackBerry devices, about 41,000 iOS devices, and around 80,000 devices running Android.

Pickart pointed out in the interview that this is not a move to implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) standard at the Department — at least not for now.

"It's not BYOD; it is the department migrating to a multi-vendor environment that is going to include more than BlackBerry currently," he explained. "BYOD is a long-term objective, but we're just not there yet. The technology is there, but things like security, we're not quite there yet."

BlackBerry's struggling platform will remain a part of the Pentagon's mobile device strategy. The Department is evaluating the mobile maker's recently released BlackBerry 10 platform with an eye toward integrating it into operations. BlackBerry's longtime focus on mobile security is a major reason behind the DoD's continued interest in the platform. Pickart said, though, that Android and iOS have made strides in that area as well.

"Other systems are maturing in their capability to provide greater security with their systems. The level of security with BlackBerry has been above most, but others are moving toward that and are achieving that."

The new policy will also come with a push to speed up the rate at which the DoD is able to acquire new technologies. Pickart spoke of a "constant tech refresh spiral," in which the department streamlines its technology buying in order to more readily adopt new new devices and technologies, thereby keeping pace with organizations in the civilian sector.

The new policy, he says, will allow the numerous components within the department to tailor their technology orders to their specific purposes.

"I think the best way to describe why we're moving to more than just one is that one size doesn't fit all," Pickart explained. "Each organization is going to have different needs. By having a family of mobile devices from which we can choose, we'll be better able to tailor devices and offerings to organizations' needs."