BlackBerry users across the world were exasperated Wednesday as an outage of email, messaging and Internet services on the phones spread to the U.S. and Canada and stretched into the third day for Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Research In Motion Ltd., the Canadian company that makes the phones, said users in the Americas "may be experiencing intermittent service delays this morning," and said it's working to fix the problem.
It appeared to be the biggest outage in years for BlackBerry users, many of whom reported lengthy rather than "intermittent" loss of service.
Overseas, the problems started Monday. On Tuesday, RIM said a crucial link in its infrastructure had failed, and a backup didn't work either. It said it was now working to get through a backlog of traffic. It hasn't explained why the outage spread to North America on Wednesday.
The service outage, the longest in many years, added to RIM's woes. The company is struggling with slowing sales, delays in getting new phones out, a tablet that's been a dud and shares that are approaching a five-year low.
The duration of the latest outage could force large businesses to rethink their use of BlackBerrys, said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. Many of them have stuck with the phones because of the quality and efficiency of its email system, but that's now in question, she said.
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Consumers are having second thoughts too. Andrew Mills, a child abuse investigator for the state of Arkansas, said he'd been thinking of getting some other smartphone for a while, and the outage was the "nail in the coffin" for him.
The 27-year-old has used BlackBerrys for five years, but friends and family have abandoned them, and he's set to do so in a few weeks. "From what I can see on their new phones they're not doing anything that's competing with Droid and iPhone," he said.
In the United Arab Emirates, the two biggest phone companies said they would compensate their BlackBerry users for the mishap by giving them at least three days of free service. Matthew Willsher, chief marketing officer for Etisalat, the country's biggest telecom, said it was acting in response to the "exceptional and unprecedented circumstances."
Unlike other cellphone makers, RIM handles email and messaging traffic to and from its phones. That allows it to provide services that other phones don't have, optimize data service and provide top-class security. But when it encounters a problem, a large share of the 70 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide can be affected all at once. BlackBerry outages tend to occur several times a year, but they usually last for less than a day.
One of the BlackBerry's big attractions is the BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, which works like text messaging but doesn't incur extra fees. That service was affected by the outage, and to make matters worse for RIM, Apple Inc. is releasing software Wednesday for its iPhones that works like BBM, and a new phone on Friday. Competition from Apple is one of the chief causes of RIM's diminishing fortunes.
Investors, however, appeared to take the outage in stride, figuring that it's just one of many problems RIM is facing. Its shares fell 13 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $24.28 in afternoon trading in New York as major indexes rose.