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16 October 20110 Comments by Jon M

BlackBerry outages – the end of RIM?

BlackBerry users are still reeling from the mass outages that affected millions of customers over the last week. Around 10am BST on Monday users noticed problems with emails routed through the Blackberry servers as well as the BBM messaging service. It was reported that the outage was due to the failure of one of the core switches in Slough which resulted in a massive cascade failure but customers claimed to be seeing a complete loss of BlackBerry Services which appeared to be confirmed by BlackBerry.

In what swiftly turned into a huge PR fiasco, BlackBerry manufacturers RIM initially claimed via Twitter on Tuesday morning that the email issues had been fixed. However, a couple of ours later it turned out that issues were still ongoing across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Furthermore, RIM soon revealed that even more of its 70 million customers were being affected as problems spread to South America too. In the end, it wasn’t until Thursday 13th October, after almost four days of outages, before services were finally restored back to normal though a substantial backlog remained.

This isn’t the only major outage that have affected BlackBerry customers. RIM was struck by massive service disruptions in 2007 and 2009 as well as several more localised issues over the years. Customers in Central and South American countries also were hit by email and BBM outages in September when servers went down. The latest problems come at the worst possible time for RIM who are rapidly losing customer share to Android and iOS. They are already still reeling from the disappointing of the BlackBerry Playbook and have only just reported a crash in their share price to $25 from a healthy $60 back in January this year.

Many will wonder how much longer the Canadian company will keep afloat. Seemingly the only thing helping BlackBerry now is the ubiquitous physical keyboard and legions of mindless trend-following teenagers who don’t understand that BBM is uncool and inferior to all the free alternatives. Or that unlimited texts on Giffgaff is cheaper than any BlackBerry plan. Still, following this latest outage, RIM will be most worried about how it affects the trust of its remaining professional users who might react by questioning how dependable BlackBerry Services are for vital business-critical emails. Given the centralised nature of BlackBerry communications services (there are a mere four network operations centres worldwide to deal with all Blackberry data traffic), many will be arguing that this latest issue was only a matter of time.

Update 17th October:
After the whole débâcle, the only compensation RIM offered to their customers was roughly £60 of overpriced apps from the BlackBerry app store. Time will tell whether this will satisfy the affected users, especially business customers.

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