BlackBerry service restored, but user left angry about information blackout

BlackBerry service was mostly restored by late morning Wednesday East Coast time, following a north American outage that started Tuesday evening and has left some users so frustrated enough by Research in Motion's poor customer service that they are considering finding an alternative.

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BlackBerry service was mostly restored by late morning Wednesday East Coast time, following a north American outage that started Tuesday evening and has left some users so frustrated enough by Research in Motion's poor customer service that they are considering finding an alternative.

Users and journalists trying to contact RIM over the past 18 hours got little joy until the company issued a bland statement this afternoon (18 April), confirming what was already known.

There was a "service interruption” affecting users in North America and e-mail delivery was delayed or intermittent during the interruption. Phone service on BlackBerry handsets was not affected, according to RIM.

"Root cause is still under review, but service for most customers was restored overnight and RIM is closely monitoring systems in order to maintain normal service levels," the statement said.

Customers on the BlackBerry Forums discussion board complained of having no service starting at about 5:15 pm Pacific Time on Tuesday.

Callers to the BlackBerry US technical support line were still greeted with the following message early Wednesday morning: "We are currently experiencing a service interruption that is causing delays in sending or receiving messages. We apologise for the inconvenience and will provide updates as soon as they become available."

Mobile phone carriers in Europe and the US were reporting Wednesday morning that service was back up. However, representatives of several of those companies said that they had yet to hear an explanation from RIM about why the interruption happened. The RIM Web site did not provide information about the outage.

Apparently, the updates didn't come soon enough for some users, with BlackBerry forums flooded with users seeking information.

David Maynor is thinking about dropping his BlackBerry service because of RIM's poor response to the situation. "I'm mad enough to switch to another service," said Maynor, who is chief technology officer with Errata Security Inc. in Atlanta. "Everyone makes mistakes but their cardinal sin is that they didn't inform their users."

Maynor, who has been a BlackBerry customer for three years, was without service from about 8:30 pm Eastern Time on 17 April until 10:30 am on Wednesday, he said. He couldn't get information on the outage from the BlackBerry Web site, or by calling his carrier's support line where "wait times were insane." Instead, he had to turn to online BlackBerry discussion forums.

Users at online forums and others contacted by IDG News Service said morning that service was still sporadic. Backlogs of messages were pouring in to BlackBerries, along with some new messages, but service was not yet consistent, users said.

Although RIM has yet to say what caused the problem, Current Analysis principal analyst Emma Mohr-McClune said the problem could be one of RIM's Network Operating Centres (NOCs) going down. "This has happened before," she said.

RIM operates two NOCs, both located in Canada, according to Mohr-McClune. The company has considered locating additional NOCs outside of Canada, she said.

Companies that provide BlackBerry service connect their mail servers to a BlackBerry Enterprise Solution (BES) server located on their premises, which in turn is linked to one of RIM's NOCs, according to Mohr-McClune. "All data slides to Canada and back," she said.

The problems come at a time of continued rapid growth for the company, based in Waterloo, Ontario. It added 1.02 million subscribers in the quarter ended March 3, for a total of approximately 8 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide.

"The rapid subscriber growth, plus the runaway junk e-mail boom, equals a disaster in the making," independent telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan said in an e-mail analysis. "Networks work fine until they reach their capacity, then all sorts of strange things happen."

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