BlackBerry maker Research In Motion had the particularly bad luck of suffering a network outage early Sept. 21, the day the Apple iPhone 5 went on sale to tremendous response.
The outage extended to approximately 6 percent of BlackBerry users, or 4.7 million people, in Europe and Africa. It affected RIM’s popular BlackBerry Messenger service and users’ email and Internet access, though they could still receive text messages and place calls.
Working quickly to take Friday’s situation in hand, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins issued a statement that included a double apology though no explanation:
I want to apologize to those BlackBerry customers in Europe and Africa who experienced an impact in their quality of service earlier this morning. The BlackBerry service is now fully restored and I can report that no data or messages were lost. Up to 5 percent of our user base may have been impacted. Preliminary analysis suggests that those customers may have experienced a maximum delay of 3 hours in the delivery and reception of their messages. We are conducting a full technology analysis of this quality of service issue and will report as soon as it concludes. I again want to apologize to those customers who were impacted today.
The timing was further unfortunate for offering a reminder of last autumn’s days-long BlackBerry outage, which eventually was pinpointed to a faulty switch in a data center in the United Kingdom.
But worst of all, the outage-to a service touted for its security and reliability-comes as RIM arguably fights for its life. Quarter after quarter the company has been losing revenue and losing market share to Android-running smartphones and the iPhone. Increasingly, it even faces a competitor in Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform.
With Apple and Android dominating, RIM and Windows Phone are in competition for what analysts say is the third major platform that the wireless carriers will support-though some believe Apple and Android will dominate the industry to the point of leaving as little as 2 percent of global market share to a third platform.
This month Nokia and HTC each introduced new Windows Phone 8-running smartphones that will arrive in time for the holidays. Samsung is enjoying record-breaking sales with its Galaxy S III and is rumored to have another smartphone planned in time for holiday sales, and of course there’s now that iPhone 5.
RIM, meanwhile, is in a holding pattern. In addition to a $518 million loss, Heins announced during RIM’s June earnings call that the company would again have to delay the release of BlackBerry 10-a completely new platform and new smartphone experience that the company is counting on to turn things around-until early 2013.
Shortly afterward, on a Canadian radio program, Heins acknowledged that the coming months wouldn’t be easy.
“We will face our challenges in the U.S. in the next six months, I understand that,” Heins told the program’s host. “But I am positive that when we launch BlackBerry 10, there will be huge support from our carrier partners, from our enterprise customers and that we will reemerge-specifically in the U.S. and in Canada-as a very strong player, not just in the smartphone market but also emerging into the mobile computing market.”
Given all that’s on RIM’s plate, a three-hour outage will either be the ironic cherry on its pile of problems or else, relative to that pile, small potatoes.