BlackBerry crumbles as third day of disruption hits users

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The Independent Online

"BlackBerry toujours dans le coma," was the plaintive tweet from one distressed French user as RIM, the company behind BlackBerry, battled to fight a third day of connectivity problems.

Since Monday morning, an estimated 10 million BlackBerry users have had to struggle with web and email services that have been intermittent at best and, in many cases, not functioning at all; these problems have also affected BBM, the free text-messaging service that's a huge attraction for millions of BlackBerry users.

As BlackBerry users across Europe, the Middle East and Africa glanced at their friends using smartphones to browse the web and send messages as normal, they began to wonder aloud: "Why us? If the internet is up and running, what's the problem?"

While RIM engineers have undoubtedly been in a state of agitation, they'll have been relieved that the brunt of the problems have been suffered by consumer BlackBerry customers who use its BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) facility, rather than business customers who largely rely on BES (the BlackBerry Enterprise Server).

"BIS and BES are effectively cousins," says Malik Saadi, Principal Analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, "so BES traffic will slow down too. If BES collapsed, however, that would be a huge problem for RIM."

The company was already experiencing minor turmoil. Despite having the fourth most popular smartphone operating system in the world (behind Nokia's Symbian, Apple's iOS and Google's Android), it's been losing customers in the US at a reported 500,000 per month, threatening to take it below a 10 per cent market share worldwide. Its attempts to offset this by expanding in markets such as India have also been halted by the popularity of much cheaper Android-based devices; this has led to a group of investors floating the idea of the sale or break up of the company. The current woes couldn't have come at a more awkward time.

"Businesses may now look to switch from RIM and look to use corporately controlled servers – which would mean switching from BlackBerry handsets, too," says Saadi. "Consumers probably won't walk away because of a couple of collapses; people can deal with that. But if the problem persists, well, that could spell even more trouble for the company."

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