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T-Mobile halts sales of Sidekick

Amid a massive failure that led to data loss for owners of the the gadgets, the wireless carrier stops selling new devices online and at its stores.

Screenshot by Ina Fried/CNET

Wireless carrier T-Mobile USA has, at least temporarily, stopped selling all models of the Sidekick in the wake of a massive hardware failure that resulted in many customers losing their e-mail, contacts, and other data.

As of Sunday, all models of the Sidekick were listed as "temporarily out of stock" on T-Mobile's Web site. T-Mobile retail store workers also said on Monday that they have been instructed to halt new sales of the device as the company continues to investigate the recent problems that have plagued the handheld.

To recap, Sidekick customers started experiencing problems connecting to the data network more than a week ago. Microsoft, whose Danger subsidiary powers the Sidekick service, said it was investigating the problems.

On Saturday, Microsoft and T-Mobile posted an updated notice saying all data that was not currently on customers devices was likely lost permanently.

Microsoft and T-Mobile have not said how many of the roughly 800,000 Sidekick customers have lost data. Microsoft said a server failure impacted the main and back-up databases. One theory is that the problems cropped up as Hitachi was doing work on the storage network that manages the Sidekick data.

T-Mobile has promised an update for customers sometime Monday. For now, the carrier has advised customers not to reset their devices, remove the battery, or let them run out of power, as doing so could result in losing whatever data they do have.

Microsoft acquired Danger last year, saying it hoped to use its service architecture more broadly in its mobile strategy. The software maker has been working on a project code-named Pink that was to be essentially the future of the Sidekick. The company had not planned for any more versions of the current Java OS-based Sidekick.

Update, 12:30 p.m. PT: T-Mobile confirmed that "Sidekick sales are temporarily on hold." A company representative told CNET News in an e-mail that the company doesn't have an exact number of customers who lost data but that "we believe it is a minority of customers."

Although there are reports that customers are being let out of their wireless contracts and being offered discounts on other T-Mobile phones, the company is officially offering only one month of Sidekick data service. "We are also considering additional measures for those who have lost their content to help reinforce how valuable they are as T-Mobile customers," the representative said.

As for why there weren't better backup mechanisms in place, T-Mobile referred that question to Microsoft.

Update, 2 p.m. PT: Even though T-Mobile has said it has temporarily halted sales of the Sidekick, retailers in New York were still selling the device Monday. At three different locations on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, sales representatives said the Sidekicks were still available, but they were warning any potential customers that mobile Web and e-mail services might not work until the server problem is resolved. They said the phone and the accompanying text-messaging service have not been affected, so customers buying a new Sidekick would be able to make calls, as well as send and receive SMS messages.

In an e-mail to retail sales managers dated October 10, T-Mobile instructed managers on how to deal with Sidekick customers. The message informed them that some personal information backed up by the Microsoft/Danger servers had been lost. This information included pictures, contacts, e-mails, text messages, calendar entries, and to-do lists.

"Our teams continue to work around the clock in hopes of discovering a means for a network recovery solution. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low," the e-mail stated.

Sales representatives were told to direct customers with questions to T-Mobile Forums on its Web site for details and to get updated information.

As part of its "action steps," sales reps were also directed to tell customers not to reset their devices by removing the battery or letting their battery drain completely.