Some BlackBerry users frustrated by outages

Software upgrade to RIM's servers causes outages for some users on networks of several wireless carriers.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
Research In Motion confirmed Wednesday that several BlackBerry customers service experienced outages this week due to a software upgrade, which was the feared outcome if RIM had been forced to implement its workaround technology.

Several customers with Cingular, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Sprint's Nextel service reported delays, outages and problems with their BlackBerry Internet Service, or BIS, starting early this week and continuing through Wednesday. A Cingular customer told CNET News.com that his carrier support representatives were pointing to an issue with RIM's servers--a diagnosis that a Cingular representative confirmed.

RIM confirmed that it was responsible for the problems in a statement to CNET News.com. "Some BlackBerry Internet Service customers experienced intermittent service earlier this week due to an issue that appears to have stemmed from a software upgrade in RIM's infrastructure. Service appears to be operating at normal levels at this time. RIM continues to monitor the infrastructure closely."

A T-Mobile representative had no immediate comment on the problems. A Sprint representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A Verizon representative said that a very small number of its BlackBerry customers could have been affected by a Verizon-designed software upgrade to its network this week if they were roaming on other networks, and that any of those problems did not appear related to RIM's software upgrade.

Frustrated consumers started venting on BlackBerryForums.com on Monday, and were still recording problems with the service as of Wednesday afternoon. Several said they had not been given a time frame for the resumption of the service. It was not clear what percentage of overall BlackBerry users were affected by the outage.

A similar problem affected T-Mobile users a few weeks ago; at the time, RIM confirmed the glitch was caused by a software issue with its technology. Both issues were related to RIM's BIS, not the BlackBerry Enterprise Server used by corporations to deliver e-mail to their employees.

RIM is trying to win over customers who held off on making BlackBerry purchases while the company fought its long-running patent-infringement dispute with holding company NTP. After RIM settled the case for $612.5 million earlier this month, company co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that RIM's customer growth had slowed amid uncertainty over whether an injunction would be reimposed on BlackBerry devices following RIM's unsuccessful appeal of a jury verdict that the BlackBerry infringed on NTP's patents.

If the companies hadn't reached a settlement agreement, and the judge in the case imposed the injunction, RIM planned to continue offering the BlackBerry service with a "workaround" that involved updating the software on its servers and on BlackBerry handhelds. Many corporate customers were nervous that the workaround would not work flawlessly, because as this week's outages show, software upgrades to major systems can cause problems.

"They tell us it would be a simple upgrade to our server environment, but we hear that all the time, so we kind of are cautious about anyone who tells us about a 'simple upgrade,'" Thomas Jarrett, Delaware's chief information officer, said in an interview prior to the BlackBerry settlement. The recent outages did not include corporate users of the BES software, but RIM is responsible for hosting BIS customers.

RIM's workaround technology was not involved in the software upgrade that caused the problems this week, a company representative said.