BlackBerry updated

Feedback from its government customers helped drive Research In Motion Ltd.'s decisions to add new features to its BlackBerry wireless handheld devices.

RIM announced this week at the FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C., that the handheld devices now have the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140-1 validation for embedded encryption technology as well a dynamic calendaring feature.

Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-chief executive officer at RIM, said all the new features were driven by customer feedback "and the government was the most vocal on that front."

FIPS validation is awarded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which collaborates with national and international standards committees, users, industry groups, consortia, and research and trade organizations to develop federal computer standards. NIST develops FIPS when there are compelling federal requirements, such as for security and privacy of sensitive information.

FIPS 140-1 (Security Requirements for Cryptographic Modules) provides the security requirements that are to be satisfied by a cryptographic module in a security system. The security requirements include: design, interfaces, authorized roles and services, physical security, software security, key management, cryptographic algorithms and self-testing.

"FIPS 140 certification is like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from NIST, and we're the only wireless device to have that," Balsillie said.

RIM also announced that BlackBerry Enterprise Server users can now have a two-way wireless connection between their online calendars and their handheld devices. Previously, handheld devices only allowed for static snapshots of the user's online calendar and manual input on the device calendar. Changes to the user's online calendar and device calendar remained isolated until manual synchronization occurred.

With wireless calendar synchronization, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and handheld devices exchange calendar events wirelessly and automatically so that the online calendar and handheld calendar are synchronized without needing a cradle, Balsillie said.

Also, users can now accept or decline meetings (with or without comments) from the handheld device and initiate meeting requests from the device.

"With calendar syncing and the meeting requirements for government personnel, [wireless access] completely redefines the relationship with your calendar," he said. "They are constantly moving and have a critical relationship with their calendar, and this is like laser enhancement."

Balsillie said the next wave of BlackBerry enhancements will be treating voice as "just another software feature," once the 2.5G wireless networks and the use of Java as a "virtual machine architecture" are in place.

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