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Army Advances Smartphone Strategy

Defense Department looks to procure smartphones, tablets, and personal Wi-Fi hotspots for soldiers.

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Military IT leadership has been increasingly talking about equipping soldiers with smartphones, and now the Army's 5th Signal Command, via a procurement run by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), is looking at the possibility of buying thousands of mobile devices in a move that could help get that strategy up and running.

DISA Tuesday issued a request for information to do market research ahead of the impending expiration of two communications contracts now in place. It plans to consolidate the existing contracts into a new contract that will provide wireless services and hardware to soldiers across Europe.

The Army's 5th Signal Command, which manages network and communications operations for the Army, has been a vocal supporter of the Army's mobile strategy, which, among other things, includes plans for an application marketplace reminiscent of Apple's AppStore. On the About page of the 5th Signal Command's website, the only content under the heading "Vision" is an image of an iPhone with various mobile apps.

In addition to standard phone features, the RFI asks for BlackBerrys, "emerging smartphones included but not limited to 4G devices such as Androids [and] iPhones," tablet computers, and wireless broadband access devices like wireless aircards and personal hotspot devices.

[Learn more about the military's tech plans. Read Pentagon CIO's Tech Revamp: 4 Priorities.]

DISA recently certified its first Android device, the Dell Streak 5, and the military is working on mobile device security in a number of other efforts. However, while the Department of Defense (DOD) is pushing for the adoption of mobile devices, DOD CIO Teri Takai has said that the shift won't happen overnight.

The contract seeks a number of features for smartphones, including encryption, a 5-megapixel-minimum camera, remote wiping capability, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi calling, over-the-air patching and updates, 4 GB minimum internal storage, GPS, and touchscreen.

Other requirements include tethering, multimedia broadcast capability, a direct connection between the military and the contractor to avoid Internet-based transport, and encrypted enterprise messaging. The plan, according to the RFI, would be to be able to refresh devices after 18 months.

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