International BlackBerry outage continues

Research In Motion acknowledges that it has still not fixed an infrastructure issue that has knocked out e-mail, BBM, and Web service for millions of customers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of South America.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has still not fully restored e-mail, messaging, and Web service to more than 10 million customers in Europe, the Middle East, parts of South America, and Africa after a disruption at one of its network operation centers yesterday.

A BlackBerry outage, which began on Monday around 10:20 a.m. BST, has resulted in limited access to e-mails, Web browsing, and messaging services such as BlackBerry Messenger, otherwise known as BBM.

Late yesterday, RIM said it had resolved the issue. But this morning, millions of BlackBerry subscribers woke up to find their service was still disrupted. The company has acknowledged the problem, but has not offered much detail about when it will be fixed.

The company said in a statement that the issues experienced by its customers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina were caused by a core switch failure within RIM's infrastructure.

"Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested," the company explained in the statement. "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."

Angry customers expressed their frustration with the outage and the company's handling of the situation on Twitter and other social-networking sites. Some even said they were considering switching to the iPhone or a device using the Android platform.

@marshal_sturm: I mean seriously what should I do? CALL people?!!

@charlesarthur yes, i am now ready for an iPhone

@malacymoore blackberry's are crashed. Maybe it's time to upgrade to #iPhone #blackberryoutage

@Gemified Want to know why #BlackberryOutage isn't trending? No one can get on their phones to tweet about it! #FAIL BB *smh*

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 outages because there is no single point of failure in the network.

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 has more than 70 million subscribers worldwide, but it has been losing customers steadily in the U.S. to competitors--Apple with its iPhone and Google with Android devices. RIM executives have said that the company has been focusing efforts on acquiring customers outside the U.S.

The company has seen strong growth in places such as India and the Middle East. But it's been squeezed on pricing in those markets. In its most recent quarterly report, the company's revenue was down almost 10 percent compared with last year and its profits fell nearly 60 percent.

The company has also stumbled with its foray into the tablet market. Its PlayBook tablet, introduced in the spring, has been a failure. The company shipped only about 500,000 units in its first quarter on the market. And it sold only 200,000 in the second quarter it was available. The company is now offering deep discounts on the device.

It's difficult to say whether the latest service outage will hurt the company's product sales. But it certainly won't help.