March 15, 2006 3:56 PM PST

Some BlackBerry users frustrated by outages

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Research In Motion confirmed Wednesday that several BlackBerry customers service experienced outages this week due to a software upgrade, which was the feared outcome if RIM had been forced to implement its workaround technology.

Several customers with Cingular, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Sprint's Nextel service reported delays, outages and problems with their BlackBerry Internet Service, or BIS, starting early this week and continuing through Wednesday. A Cingular customer told CNET that his carrier support representatives were pointing to an issue with RIM's servers--a diagnosis that a Cingular representative confirmed.

RIM confirmed that it was responsible for the problems in a statement to CNET "Some BlackBerry Internet Service customers experienced intermittent service earlier this week due to an issue that appears to have stemmed from a software upgrade in RIM's infrastructure. Service appears to be operating at normal levels at this time. RIM continues to monitor the infrastructure closely."

A T-Mobile representative had no immediate comment on the problems. A Sprint representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A Verizon representative said that a very small number of its BlackBerry customers could have been affected by a Verizon-designed software upgrade to its network this week if they were roaming on other networks, and that any of those problems did not appear related to RIM's software upgrade.

Frustrated consumers started venting on on Monday, and were still recording problems with the service as of Wednesday afternoon. Several said they had not been given a time frame for the resumption of the service. It was not clear what percentage of overall BlackBerry users were affected by the outage.

A similar problem affected T-Mobile users a few weeks ago; at the time, RIM confirmed the glitch was caused by a software issue with its technology. Both issues were related to RIM's BIS, not the BlackBerry Enterprise Server used by corporations to deliver e-mail to their employees.

RIM is trying to win over customers who held off on making BlackBerry purchases while the company fought its long-running patent-infringement dispute with holding company NTP. After RIM settled the case for $612.5 million earlier this month, company co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that RIM's customer growth had slowed amid uncertainty over whether an injunction would be reimposed on BlackBerry devices following RIM's unsuccessful appeal of a jury verdict that the BlackBerry infringed on NTP's patents.

If the companies hadn't reached a settlement agreement, and the judge in the case imposed the injunction, RIM planned to continue offering the BlackBerry service with a "workaround" that involved updating the software on its servers and on BlackBerry handhelds. Many corporate customers were nervous that the workaround would not work flawlessly, because as this week's outages show, software upgrades to major systems can cause problems.

"They tell us it would be a simple upgrade to our server environment, but we hear that all the time, so we kind of are cautious about anyone who tells us about a 'simple upgrade,'" Thomas Jarrett, Delaware's chief information officer, said in an interview prior to the BlackBerry settlement. The recent outages did not include corporate users of the BES software, but RIM is responsible for hosting BIS customers.

RIM's workaround technology was not involved in the software upgrade that caused the problems this week, a company representative said.

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Research In Motion Ltd., software upgrade, outage, RIM BlackBerry, representative


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This disclosure is a week late!
RIM shows a tremendous lack of responsibility by not acknowledging this issue earlier. My first BB Web Client (T-Mobile) user reported failures last Friday. On Monday, 2 of my BB Web Client (Verizon) users reported outages lasting all day. The Chairman of my company (also T-Mobile) experienced outages on Monday as well.

Neither carrier could tell me the exact nature of the problem. It took my being on the phone, escalating upwards from T-Mobile, to a RIM supervisor in Canada, to get some explanation of the issue (they claimed not to know what was wrong), and get a workaround implemented for one of my users would would be traveling abroad and only had BB e-mail access. The workaround is only partially acceptable.

I knew the problem was with RIM when I was unable to verify the POP3/IMAP e-mail address setting from either carrier's Web Client setup pages. Clicking on any link to reveal those settings (stored and run on RIM servers) resulted in error messages.

RIM has a duty to notify it's users of a pending software upgrade ahead of time. Any software upgrade that has not been fully stress tested in a production environment, runs the risk of causing service disruptions if something goes wrong. Unless RIM supervisors lied to me, no one from T-Moble level 1 helpdesk support, all the way up to the RIM supervisor I spoke to, was able to to tell me what was wrong with their service. No one mentioned a scheduled software upgrade. And not one mention on T-Mobile, Verizon or RIM's websites concerning these outages and upgrades. Irresponsible behavior across several organizations who are supposed to be some of the best service providers. At the very least, RIM should have sent out a PIN notification message to every BB user, describing the problem. And they STILL should!

I hope each user affected seeks a partial refund of their monthly access fees, to show Rim and it's carriers that this level of service will not be tolerated.
Posted by (942 comments )
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Poor Consumer Choice
Normally, Im not one to shun a good business model, but from a consumer perspective it appears as though RIM customers have simply not done their research. Why pay a middleman so that you can suffer from their network and software problems?

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Posted by William Squire (151 comments )
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Double check
Appearances can be deceiving, William...

The RIM Web Client solution (when operable) is a good model for small businesses that lack the infrastructure, IT staffing or financial resources to incorporate and support an internal Blackberry Enterprise Server.

RIM handhelds seem to offer longer operational time from a single battery charge than their competitors from Microsoft or Palm. Setting those units up to check for mail as frequently as the RIM units do, exacts a huge penalty in battery life.

Most RIM handhelds are much smaller and lighter than the competition. They are less expensive to acquire as well. Syncronization with the dominant e-mail client in use in corporations, Outlook, is excellent.

Many IT managers do a good job of not only evaluating and choosing the best available technology from a price/performance perspective for their firms, but are often seasoned enough to reconsider their technology needs when their current solution no longer proves reliable.
Posted by (942 comments )
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T-Mobile's Web Client still has issues
There is still a problem. At T-Mobile's web site, the link that allows you to review a POP3/IMAP e-mail address setup, generates an error message. This is the link where you tell the Web Client service what alternative e-mail address to check for new mail.

The link is supposed to connect to a configuration server located at RIM.
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