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BlackBerry service issues spread to U.S. and Canada

A disruption in BlackBerry service is going into its third day as users in North America now complain of disrupted access to e-mail.

BlackBerry subscribers throughout the world continued to experience disruptions in service for a third consecutive day as problems with Research In Motion's equipment in its data centers appears to now be affecting North American subscribers as well.

Customers using Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones in the U.S. and Canada are now also without access to e-mail and BlackBerry messaging in an outage that has already plagued subscribers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa since Monday.

RIM said it has fixed the problem on Monday. But service disruption continued Tuesday with only spotty access to e-mail, BlackBerry Messenger, and Web. At first the problems only affected subscribers mainly in Europe, the Middle East, India, and Africa.

But the issues spread to other parts of the world including parts of South America. And this morning customers in the U.S. and Canada also began complaining of e-mails being delayed and sent in batches. One user in the Boston area said he began seeing e-mail delays early this morning. And when batches of e-mail arrived, they were about three hours old.

Earlier RIM blamed the disruption to service that affected Europe, the Mideast, India, Latin America, and Africa on a failed switch and backup. The company said the problem had been fixed. But it also added that it might take some time to work through the backlog of data, which had not yet been sent to subscribers' devices. E-mail started to trickle in for some users late yesterday.

"Although the system is designed to failover to a backup switch, the failover did not function as previously tested," the company explained in a statement on Tuesday. "As a result, a large backlog of data was generated and we are now working to clear that backlog and restore normal service as quickly as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience and we will continue to keep you informed."

It's not yet clear clear whether the issues plaguing customers overseas are what is also affecting service in North America. RIM has acknowledged that there is a problem with its service in the U.S. and Canada. But it didn't provide specific information.

"BlackBerry subscribers in the Americas may be experiencing intermittent service delays this morning," the company said. "We are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and we apologize to our customers for any inconvenience. We will provide a further update as soon as more information is available."

BlackBerry users in Canada and parts of Central and South America also suffered service disruption last month, when RIM's e-mail and messenger services were down.

RIM's BlackBerry network architecture is its strength as well as its biggest weakness. Unlike other smartphone platforms, RIM routes all e-mail and messaging traffic through its BlackBerry servers in network operation centers throughout the world. This centralized architecture for the service means that additional encryption and security can be added to the messages that traverse the network. And for many corporate customers, this added security is the main reason they use the service.

But the architecture also means there are single points of failure throughout the network. This means that when there is a major infrastructure disruption, it can affect entire regions of service, potentially knocking out service for tens of millions of customers. By contrast competing smartphones, such as the iPhone and Google Android devices, do not suffer from the same types of outages because there is no single point of failure in the network.

Updated 10 a.m. PT: This story has been updated with a comment from Research In Motion.