“It’s been my goal to provide reliable, real-time communications around the world. We did not deliver on that goal this week. Not even close,” said Research in Motion’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, who manufactures the BlackBerry, in a YouTube statement on Oct. 13.

According to Lazaridis, customers in Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA) lost service beginning Oct. 10, due to failure of a critical link in BlackBerry’s European network. Even though the repair of the Research in Motion (RIM) network was completed fairly quickly, e-mails and messages started to backlog, which slowed the system for other users. The rate of e-mails and messages out-numbered the speed at which they could be sent, and by Wednesday, Oct. 12, the blackout spread to North America.

The company did not respond to the outage for three days and when it did, it was through a statement on YouTube.com.

In his YouTube apology, Lazaridis did not explain what happened, but said, “We let many of you down. But let me assure you, we are working around the clock to fix this.”

During the outage, affected customers were not able to access their e-mails, surf the Web, or send messages via BlackBerry’s Messenger. Many BlackBerry users rely on the system for real-time communication with their customers and clients. Time lost often equates to money lost.

In addition to the video statement, RIM offered $100 worth of free apps as compensation for the outage, but that was not enough for some. Lawsuits were filed in both the U.S. and Canadian courts on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011, on behalf of all BlackBerry owners in each country with an active service agreement at the time of the outage.

According to Reuters, “The U.S. complaint estimates that Research in Motion earns at least $3.4 million per day in service revenue, collected from customers through carrier networks including Sprint and Verizon.” Potentially 2.4 million customers in just California could participate in the U.S. class action lawsuit.

Speaking in reference to the class action suits, Phillip Manna, senior project manager at Capital Group and UTSA alumni said, “If you are not happy with the service provided you can switch providers. You don’t have to sue.”

A survey of 500 people by officebroker.com found that BlackBerry devices were still the most commonly used business phone. That number may change soon though.

The blackout is just one more excuse for customers to switch loyalties. ITProPortal.com reported that over 64 percent of BlackBerry users considered transferring service to Apple’s iPhone, with another 23 percent considering an Android phone and 5 percent looking to a Windows phone.

“It didn’t affect me, so I’m not switching. I’m still loyal to BlackBerry,” Andres Ramos, senior communications major at UTSA, said.

RIM was already struggling to survive before the outage. Earlier in the year they had announced that they would have to eliminate 2,000 jobs worldwide, which equates to more than 10 percent of their workforce. Their entry into the tablet world with the PlayBook was not well received causing their share of the market to decline even further.

In an effort to restore customer faith, RIM announced on Nov. 1, that they had put together a “SWAT team” lead by Chief Technology Officer David Yach, to uncover the source of the network failure that spanned five continents. The announcement may be too late incoming though, since it wasn’t issued until a week after the filing of the court cases, and nearly three weeks after the initial outage.

Eventually the source of the blackout was identified as a single point of failure in a single UK data center. RIM has only two global network operation centers (NOC), which allows for faster delivery of e-mails. But if one of the NOCs has a failure, all traffic is routed to the remaining NOC and systems slow down, and, in time, a full outage occurs.

In an interview with Computerworld UK, analyst Nick Dillon said, “There may be a question as to whether there should be more regional NOCs available to RIM,” to enable traffic to be re-routed when outages occur or during traffic spikes.

Though they have identified the source of the problem, RIM is not out of trouble yet. On Nov. 9, RIM posted on its Twitter account, “We’re getting reports that some users are experiencing delays.” A RIM company spokeswoman later added: “There is no system-wide outage. However we are investigating reports that some users in EMEIA have experienced delays.”

To make matters worse, Google announced in a blog post on Nov. 10, that at the end of this month, it would no longer offer or provide service for the Gmail app on the BlackBerry device.

RIM de-emphasized the value of the app in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, by stating, “Since 2009, RIM has incorporated native support for Gmail in BlackBerry (operating system) 5.0 and above, which means that a separate Gmail app is not required.”

Regardless of whether the app is preferred by customers or not, RIM will still have to fight public perception.

“It doesn’t look good for their reputation,” UTSA junior psychology major Krystle Hernandez said.

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