BlackBerry customers across four continents hit by problems

BlackBerry users across four continents are without email, messaging and browsing services on their smartphones.

Millions of users in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, were hit by the delays after a series of failures in Research In Motion’s (RIM) private network.

"The messaging and browsing delays being experienced ... were caused by a core switch failure within RIM's infrastructure," the company said.

The Canadian company manages its BlackBerry service via servers parked within enterprises and hooked up to a proprietary network carried by wireless operators.

"Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested," RIM said. Failover refers to the automatic switching of service to a standby server in the case of a failure of a main system. "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," RIM noted.

RIM hosts a number of network operating centres, including one at its headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario, and another in southern England, which manage the massive amounts of data that flow through its system.

RIM has suffered outages before. Its BlackBerry Messenger service went offline in Canada and Latin America last month and a massive disruption hit North American customers in April 2007, but the disruptions are usually contained within one continent or region. RIM has more than 70 million subscribers worldwide, with much growth in recent years coming from emerging markets.

At 0225 GMT Tuesday, RIM said it had resolved problems disrupting its services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). This was some 20 hours after users in EMEA and India first reported problems with email and BlackBerry Messenger. In its latest update, RIM did not say when it expected the outage to be fully resolved or how many customers had been affected.

The outages are just another headache for RIM, which has less margin for error as rivals encroach on the corporate email market it once took for granted. Employees increasingly push to use their personal devices, typically iPhones and iPads and to a lesser extent Android devices, in the workplace. It is also facing growing calls from investors for a break-up, sale or change of management following recent dismal results, slipping market share for its phones and a lacklustre reception for its PlayBook tablet, designed to challenge Apple's iPad.

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