Tech Check

'CrackBerry' Crisis: Outage Hits The Americas

It is a "CrackBerry" addict's worst nightmare: a catastrophic outage affecting the company's entire network in the Americas.

In an e-mail to its enterprise clients, Research in Motion says it has suffered a "critical severity outage" --and the company as of yet is providing no details as to when the network will be back up and running.

The outage is reminiscent of another BlackBerry blackout that took place last April, when the company's 8 million customers suddenly were thrust into the dark as far as e-mail was concerned.

At that time, service was down for almost a full day as the company scrambled to get its network back on line. At the time, RIM officials blamed a software upgrade that apparently went awry. Speculation this time around is that something similar has occurred again.

Phone service and instant messaging appears to be unaffected.

AT&T and Verizon both say this is not an issue with their networks, but a problem with the BlackBerry network instead.

Yet once again, a massive, system-wide outage will shake confidence in the company's ability to be the critical communications tool.

The concern during the April outage was that RIM was simply growing too fast and couldn't accommodate for the significant number of new customers it was signing up every week. The company enjoyed blow-out earnings in December, reporting 65 cents a share on $1.67 billion in revenue, both categories up sharply, and both categories soundly beating Wall Street estimates.

During the quarter, RIM added 1.65 million BlackBerry accounts, bringing the total number of BlackBerry users to 12 million. The company also shipped more than 3.9 million devices that quarter. Of course, if confidence is shaken too severely, it could affect the company's growth projections.

It's not clear at this point whether the tens of millions of e-mails sent during the outage are being stored and then will be doled out when the network gets back up to speed. The last time this happened, some messages got through, but others were lost completely.

Either way, in much the same way airlines suffer ripple effects through their entire system when a single airport experiences a delay, it will likely take some time for the network to return to normal once RIM gets it operational again. Some flights get canceled; some e-mails will be lost. Some flights get delayed; some e-mails may take some time getting to your mobile in-box.

Even if the network is suddenly fixed, the shock to the system could take hours to work out and service may be hit or miss for a while.

Still awaiting official word about all this from RIM. So far, none of our calls have been returned, nor has the company released a statement detailing the cause of the outage or an expected time of recovery.

The timing for such a major outage could not be worse: It coincides with the huge Mobile World Congress wireless trade show kicking off in Barcelona, Spain Monday, as so many RIM competitors are trying to gain traction against BlackBerry. This could be the kind of competitive leg up in the marketplace companies like Apple, Palm , Nokia , and even Motorola can seize upon.

Rest assured we are working this story, but sad to say, you won't be getting updates on your BlackBerry. You'll have to log on to the Internet old school. Believe me when I tell you: I feel your pain.

Questions?  Comments?