Research In Motion BlackBerry handsets experienced e-mail and Internet outages on the evening of Dec. 22 and into the early morning hours the following day. It was RIM's second major service failure in a week.
CNN reported that the outage lasted more than 8 hours, and RIM in an e-mail to customers estimated that at one point 100 percent of its customers in North America were affected.
"BlackBerry subscribers may be unable to send or receive messages. Subscribers may also be unable to register their device, roam in another location or use other services such as Internet browsing," RIM said in the e-mail. "BlackBerry Internet Service subscribers may be unable to use the BlackBerry Internet Service Website or perform activities such as creating new accounts, integrating third-party e-mail accounts or viewing e-mail attachments."
Service resumed just before 3 a.m. EST, although long after Twitter users had announced the issue and duly logged their complaints-a phenomenon surely keeping branding managers awake at night. The morning of Dec. 23, Twitter users tweeted their relief at RIM's return.
"Thank God BlackBerry is up and running again," one Twitter user wrote.
"So glad I got an iPhone. Missed the BlackBerry outage this time," wrote another.
Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies, told eWEEK, "You could look at Twitter as an early warning system, letting you know you have a problem. If they're adroit, they can address it quickly."
In a handset industry poised to grow still more competitive, any sign of weakness in the enterprise-approved BlackBerry service is thought to be a boon for the predominantly consumer-appealing iPhone, which Apple has worked to make appeal to security-conscious businesses as well.
BlackBerry customers also experienced an e-mail outage on Dec. 17, which was said to be due to a service upgrade. The outage reportedly did little to disrupt consumers' opinions of the brand.
"Looking at a three-day moving average, Buzz scores for BlackBerry on [Dec. 17] were 34 and have dropped to 28 as of yesterday. While the score is lower, it is not statistically significant," Ted Marzilli, global managing director for BrandIndex, told eWEEK.
BrandIndex measures the brand perception of 5,000 consumers each day; its scores range from 100 to minus 100, with zero representing equal positive and negative feedback.
"My evaluation is that service outages are definitely frustrating for clients, and there is never a good time to experience one," Marzilli continued. "Potentially adding to the frustration is that it is not immediately obvious to all users that the service is down, so you may have sent an important e-mail or document to someone and assume that they have received it and everything is fine, when in fact it has not been received and things are not fine. On the plus side for BlackBerry, last night's outage did not impact phone lines, so people still had some way to stay in contact."
Kay was also lenient toward the BlackBerry maker. "You can't really point a finger at RIM, it's a bigger problem than that," he said, arguing that with network resources being used to the maximum, such outages aren't terribly unexpected, and people should have backup plans in place in anticipation of service disruptions.
"It does point out the nature of the Internet, and Google, for example, emphasizing that [cloud computing] is the way to go. Those things assume a great degree of bandwidth accountability and reliability that isn't really there yet," Kay said.
"It's obvious that you need mobile capabilities, because you're not always going to be connected to the cloud. You need it in both places-[a mobile version] and one in the cloud."