U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin a pilot deployment of smartphones running Research In Motion's new BlackBerry 10 OS early next year.
The deal, announced Thursday, is the first major U.S. government agreement disclosed by RIM for the OS ahead of its planned launch on Jan. 30.
It will see the immigration service deploy the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 mobile enterprise management system and an unspecified number of BlackBerry 10 smartphones early in 2013, RIM said in a statement.
The size of the deal is unknown, but perhaps it's most important as a psychological boost for RIM and potential customers. For years a mainstay of U.S. government mobile communications, users have become increasingly dissatisfied with their BlackBerry devices as smartphones on competing platforms race ahead with bigger, brighter screens and a large number of apps.
BlackBerry 10 and a new array of handsets are RIM's answer to Android, Apple's iOS and these user frustrations, but a big question is how many public and private enterprises will stick with RIM.
An important step toward use in the U.S. government was attainment of FIPS 140-2, a cryptographic certification that was achieved earlier this year.
The BlackBerry 10 platform brings a number of features designed to increase information security.
There is, for example, a home and work mode that separates data and applications internally. Enterprises can control the apps and features available on the work side and keep confidential information stored and unavailable to apps on the home side of the device, where the user is able to run software and access features without restriction.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org