BlackBerry 10 Smartphones Head to Carrier Trials as RIM Loses Pentagon

RIM announced that its BlackBerry 10 smartphones are in lab trials with 50 carriers as news arrived that even the Pentagon is expanding its device support to Apple and Android.

Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins has announced that 50 carriers are now conducting lab trials with BlackBerry 10 smartphones, suggesting the long-awaited devices and the equally long-awaited new BlackBerry 10 platform they run on, are on track to launch in early 2013, as promised.

"This process will continue in the coming months as more carriers around the world formally evaluate the devices and our brand-new software," Heins said in a statement.

But while January was a hoped-for release date—Heins promised new smartphones in January, according to an August report from The Telegraph—March now seems more likely, as the trials process takes three to six months, analysts with Jefferies said in a Nov. 1 report.

"We still expect a March launch as we believe the lab trials will be more complex, given the new OS and lack of backward-interoperability," stated the report. "We continue to see few catalysts."

Jefferies described RIM management as "silent" on the timing of BlackBerry 10's launch, and notes that a March arrival would force RIM to finish another quarter without the much-needed boost of new devices.

RIM's lack of new devices has prevented it from being able to protect its market share against the Apple iPhone and Android-running smartphones, now even in verticals that have long been loyal to BlackBerry for its exception security features.

On Oct. 28, news outlets including The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon, for the first time, plans to support Apple and Android devices, in addition to BlackBerry smartphones.

Sirran Communications won a contract, it said in an Oct. 22 statement, to supply "network core technologies for a private 2G, 3G and LTE [Long Term Evolution] network for use in development of [Department of Defense] solutions for increased use of mobile devices by personnel across military and their support contractors."

The system will manage and secure at least 162,500 Android and Apple products, including the Apple iPad, said The Post, and may eventually handle 8 million devices. (The New York Times reported weeks ago that while President Obama still uses a BlackBerry, he now likes to receive his security briefings on an iPad.)

RIM's loss of footing at the Pentagon follows a handful of similar announcements, including federal contractor Booz Allen Hamilton's announcement that it was dropping its contract with RIM and decommissioning its BlackBerry server.

RIM experienced a $518 million loss during its 2013 fiscal second quarter, it announced Sept. 27, but also gained 2 million subscribers quarter-to-quarter, the majority of whom are in developing markets. Until the arrival of BlackBerry 10, Heins has acknowledged, North America will be a hard sell.

In his Oct. 31 statement regarding the carriers' trials of the new devices, Heins said that an "important milestone" had been reached, but there was still road to travel.

"The hard work will not stop here as we build toward launch," said Heins. "Our developer teams are continuing to generate momentum to bring a wealth of applications to BlackBerry 10, our enterprise teams have started to present BlackBerry 10 devices and services to our business customers, and our engineers are fully mobilized to ensure that BlackBerry 10 launches flawlessly in the first quarter of 2013."