White House Android Phone Tests Don't Signal BlackBerry's Retirement

NEWS ANALYSIS: The White House Communications Agency has started testing Android phones, but this doesn't mean President Barack Obama will have to give up his BlackBerry.

The White House Communications Agency, a Pentagon unit responsible for the secure communications used by President Barack Obama and his staff, has begun testing Android phones from two manufacturers, Samsung and LG.

The report, from the Wall Street Journal, says that the testing is in its earliest stages. A White House spokesperson declined to comment on this report.

President Obama is legendary in his affection for BlackBerry smartphones, and an earlier attempt to shift him to a secure, custom-built smartphone that wasn't really very smart apparently failed, as the president has been seen recently still using a BlackBerry. Rumor has it that his current BlackBerry has been modified to make it secure enough for presidential use.

While some, including the Journal, have suggested that this testing is the end of BlackBerry, that isn't necessarily true. In fact, just because the White House Communications Agency is testing other phones doesn't mean the president is interested in changing. It's the agency's job to test new platforms to ensure they can be made secure to White House standards and to decide if it is possible for them to be highly secure and exactly how secure.

In addition, the WHCA tests communications gear for everyone on the commander in chief's staff, whether they actually work in the White House or are part of one of the other related staffs. There are a lot of mobile phones in use in the executive branch these days, after all. Perhaps more important, the Pentagon has been conducting an ongoing series of tests on phones from a variety of makers, including Apple and Nokia, as well as on a number of Android phones and on the BlackBerry 10 platform.

The reason for all of this diverse testing is pretty obvious. The U.S. military can't afford to rely on a single system of any kind. If such a single system were to be penetrated, then all of the military's communications that use cellular technology could be suddenly insecure. One of the reasons for having multiple unrelated platforms is to limit the chances of that kind of vulnerability. So regardless of what the Department of Defense finds in its testing, the military, and likely the White House, will never become all-Android or all anything else.

Despite the testing, BlackBerry is in no danger of being ousted from the White House or the Department of Defense. BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 is currently the most secure commercial infrastructure available for mobile devices. When the BlackBerry device is configured appropriately, it's very secure, and with the right add-on technology, such as SecuSmart's encryption chip, the BlackBerry can handle classified information, something other smartphones can't do.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...