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BlackBerry outages spread to US

An infrastructure problem that disrupted service for BlackBerry customers in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America has now affected customers in North America. An infrastructure problem that disrupted service for BlackBerry customers in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America has now affected customers in North America. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)
By Peter Svensson
Associated Press / October 13, 2011

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NEW YORK - BlackBerry users across the world were exasperated yesterday as an outage of e-mail, messaging, and Internet services on the phones spread to the United States and Canada, and stretched into the third day in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

It was the biggest outage in years for BlackBerry users, straining their relationship with an already tarnished brand. And it came on the eve of the launch of a mighty competitor: a new iPhone model.

Research In Motion Ltd., the Canadian company that makes the phones, said a crucial link in its European infrastructure failed Monday, and a backup did not work, either. The underlying problem has been fixed, but a backlog of e-mails and messages has built up that the company has yet to work down.

Meanwhile, e-mails and messages from other regions to Europe were piling up in the company’s systems in the rest of the world. That caused the outages in the United States and Asia, said David Yach, the company’s chief technology officer for software.

Mary Leach, director of public affairs at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said she started noticing trouble with her BlackBerry around 7:30 a.m. yesterday. For much of the day, e-mails she received on her desktop computer were not showing up on her BlackBerry.

“For people like myself who have to travel back and forth for a lot of meetings, it’s quite inconvenient,’’ she said. “I have a pager, too, and on days like today, I’ve got it in my pocket.’’

At Zenprise Inc., a Fremont, Calif., firm that helps companies manage BlackBerrys issued to employees, vice president Ahmed Datoo said e-mails started piling up on US servers shortly after midnight. By morning, the congestion was heavy enough at a particular client company to delay all e-mail for BlackBerrys. The pileup started to ease in the afternoon.

Research in Motion is already struggling with delays in getting new phones out, a tablet that’s been a dud, and shares that are approaching a five-year low. In the latest quarter, it sold 10.6 million phones, down from 12.1 million the same period last year.

The duration of the latest outage could force large businesses to rethink their use of BlackBerrys, said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. Many of them have stuck with the phones because of the quality and efficiency of its e-mail system, but that’s now in question, she said.

Consumers are having second thoughts, too. Andrew Mills, a child abuse investigator for the state of Arkansas, said he had been thinking of getting some other smartphone for a while, and the outage was the “nail in the coffin’’ for him. The 27-year-old has used BlackBerrys for five years, but friends and family have abandoned them, and he is set to do so in a few weeks.

In the United Arab Emirates, the two biggest phone companies said they would compensate their BlackBerry users for the mishap by giving them at least three days of free service.

Unlike other cellphone makers, Research in Motion handles e-mail and messaging traffic to and from its phones. That allows it to provide services that other phones don’t have, optimize data service, and provide top-class security. But when it encounters a problem, a large share of the 70 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide can be affected.

In a letter on RIM’s website Robin Bienfait, RIM’s chief information officer, apologized for service interruptions and delays.

“You’ve depended on us for reliable, real-time communications, and right now we’re letting you down,’’ Bienfait said. “We believe we understand why this happened and we are working to restore normal service levels in all markets as quickly as we can.’’