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By 2 November 2011 | Categories: feature articles

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BlackBerry holding company Research in Motion (RIM) experienced a crises of epic proportions last month as the BlackBerry Internet Service went down, leaving millions of their customers facing a communication blackout.


Blackberry Curve 9300 StoppedOne day of service outages stretched into two and then three, leaving them unable to send and receive emails, disconnected from BlackBerry Messenger, and cut off from the internet on their device. Users fumed, taking to Twitter, Facebook and the internet to beg and plead with an inauspiciously quiet RIM to fix the problem.

BlackBerry Blackout

While the outages initially affected Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, users were left in the dark as to why they couldn't access the services they were paying for. Somewhat fittingly, RIM received scathing criticism for its failure to communicate with its affected global customers until the second day, when the pressure mounted to find out the cause of the problem and fix it. Despite belatedly reassuring that the company was working to restore services as fast as possible, outages continued for a third day, spreading to Canada and the US and affecting even more BlackBerry users.

While the company eventually identified the problem (a core switch failure within RIM's infrastructure), a former RIM employee revealed to the Guardian that the Canadian company had been ignoring problems with its server architecture for years, asserting that the company had neglected to consider scalability until 2007, when there were already eight million active devices.

The Aftermath

After three days of service outages, the problem was resolved, with RIM making consecutive announcements to update customers on their progress. Nonetheless, the damage has been done, and in the aftermath, the company scrambled to try win back the trust that had been lost. Apologies were issued, and a programme was hastily put in place offering users free apps and technical service contracts, while locally cellular provides stepped up to offer their BlackBerry customers remuneration.

Beyond the debacle, and the cost of rebuilding its customers' confidence, the three day BlackBerry blackout begs several as yet unanswered questions: Can BlackBerry users confidently rely on RIM for consistent service, or was this the first of many service failures that smartphone users will be plagued with? Can RIM cope with its current client base, even as they pursue greater market share? Time will tell; for now, the company has its work cut out for them proving that they can be trusted. 

 

The article was first published in TechSmart 98, November 2011. 

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