"BlackBerry toujours dans le coma" was the plaintive tweet from one distressed BlackBerry user yesterday afternoon 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 an unlikely consumer alliance of furious youngsters and disgruntled suits formed, RIM proceeded to give a masterclass in corporate stonewalling, with press releases acknowledging that some users are "experiencing issues," while apologising for "any inconvenience". 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?"
The predicament RIM has found itself in is completely bound up with the way it provides its online services. The BlackBerry initially found favour because of its secure, encrypted "push" email facility; essentially, RIM takes care of handling emails and delivers them to your handset as soon as they are sent, relieving you of the burden of repeatedly pressing "check mail". But this has made RIM a crucial link in the chain; if its service fails, you won't get your email – regardless of your internet connectivity. It's the same with BBM: the millions of messages teenagers fire off daily are all routed through RIM's data centres, and their delivery is entirely at their mercy.
As a result of this, millions of BlackBerry users across the world have found themselves massively inconvenienced by a malfunctioning server that's reportedly located in Slough.
After RIM reported that the problem had been fixed and that services were returning to normal, they visibly failed to do so. "Obviously RIM had backup measures in place," says Malik Saadi, Principal Analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, "but it was unfortunate in that its failover system didn't work either. It's now running against the clock; it's a survival race, and every single hour counts."
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 Saadi," 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."
Bad reception: BlackBerry customers speak out
I'm always out at castings or in auditions and often not in my office, so I really rely on my BlackBerry. Of course I can access emails on a computer, but we've all become reliant on having access to them immediately so it's confusing [when the BlackBerry doesn't work]. Because of the nature of my work, I have a large influx of emails from Los Angeles that all need answering and they have no idea that I'm not even receiving them.
Freelance fashion stylist
I'm a BlackBerry addict so the dependency I have on it comes as no real shocker. As a freelance stylist, I rely on people being able to get hold of me on email or via social media sites and with BlackBerry down I'm unable to access them if I leave the house. A number of my clients have been unable to get hold of me this week so I'm losing work. As with many of us afflicted with such a disturbing attachment [to BlackBerry], it has affected all facets of my life – but I probably miss my Twitter feed the most. For the first time ever I'm considering becoming a iPhone user. I do love a game of Angry Birds.
Often when these things happen it's a one-off problem, but the simple fact that the problem was fixed but then went wrong again is very poor. The one thing that kept me with BlackBerry was the reliability of their email service, especially when their gadgets fell behind others in what they were able to do. But now that they've blown my trust in their email, there's nothing to keep me with them. HTC, Apple or Samsung will be the winners out of this.
Most of my friends have a BlackBerry and we use the BlackBerry Messenger [BBM] all the time to keep in touch with each other because it's free. The problems with the service [over the past few days] have been really annoying because if I want to go out somewhere I can't arrange to meet my friends. It's making everything much more difficult. I can text my friends but I only get about 50 free texts a month on the contract that I'm on and they have all been used up. BBM was the main reason I got a BlackBerry and now it doesn't work. I'm thinking about getting a HTC.Reuse content