Air Force secures wireless e-mail

Tyndall Air Force Base

Employees at a pair of Air Force bases are able to securely access e-mail and other information from wireless handheld devices using a solution from Aether Systems Inc., a provider of wireless data products and services.

At Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, personnel are using the Palm Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Pocket PC operating systems along with Aether's ScoutSync server "to securely access their Microsoft Exchange server via a wired or wireless connection," said Ken Whitehead, director of federal operations at Aether. "They have the flexibility to access the information any way they want."

After prototyping personal digital assistants equipped with ScoutSync a year ago, Tyndall AFB expanded the deployment in June to provide access to e-mail applications via Palm and Pocket PC handheld devices.

Langley AFB in Virginia began a similar installation in June after licensing the BlackBerry by Aether wireless e-mail solution—an end-to-end system for Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry handhelds that includes Aether's services. "It allows wireless connectivity to Microsoft Exchange servers using RIM handheld devices," Whitehead said.

By using ScoutSync or BlackBerry by Aether, officers who travel to other military bases, meetings or events can securely access all the information they normally get at their offices using Microsoft Exchange. They can send and receive e-mail messages, schedule appointments, manage contacts and documents, and plan tasks on a device that is less cumbersome and less expensive than a laptop computer.

Don Longueuil, a wireless analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group, said many government agencies, as well as users in the financial, legal and health care industries, have selected BlackBerry solutions instead of Palm solutions because of the advanced security they offer. He said wireless access to e-mail is exploding in all of these industries.

"With the current market and [information technology] cutbacks, the mission-critical stuff is e-mail," Longueuil said. "E-mail is the door opener and allows for down the road when spending habits change" and access to intranet data and databases is requested. Regardless of the devices being used, Air Force personnel are reaping the benefits of secure, wireless e-mail access, Whitehead said.

"In both cases, it gives the Air Force the ability to perform centralized management of the devices, the users and the transfer of data and to add additional layers of security," he said, adding that there are currently more than 300 users combined at the bases. "We're working with both organizations in discussing other applications to be developed to utilize the efficiencies of Aether's server software and services."

Aether products are also used by several federal agencies, including the Navy, the Postal Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Exchange and Lotus [Development Corp.'s] Notes applications are generally the low-hanging fruit—they're the first applications the customer wants access to using a handheld device," Whitehead said. "Giving access to legacy data and other applications will truly exploit Aether's solutions with commonly used handheld devices."

Repeated attempts to reach Air Force personnel at both bases for comments were unsuccessful.

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