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BlackBerry is Back Up, Questions Linger

By Tara Seals
April 18, 2007 - News

The BlackBerry wireless e-mail system is back up and running, but the service outage that affected millions Tuesday night and Wednesday morning has caused a backlog of messages that will continue to affect the use of the addictive mobile handhelds for an unspecified time.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. said in a statement that the cause of the outage is still being investigated and that the network is being monitored to maintain normal service levels.

The BlackBerry system suffered a "massive system failure" at about 8 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, leaving many without service. The temporary snarling of mobile e-mail delivery — even though it mainly occurred in the overnight hours — has been enough to make many question the wisdom of relying on mobile devices for mission-critical use.

“The rapid subscriber growth, plus the runaway junk email boom, equals a disaster in the making,” said analyst Jeff Kagan, labeling the outage as a “meltdown.”

“Networks work fine until they reach their capacity, then all sorts of strange things happen,” he said. ”The immediate solution: Call in and use the phone to check for messages. The phone. you know, that big thing on most desks with a wire coming out the back. This is a sampling of the chaos we could be working through if we have a meltdown of our networks, or a terrorist attack. Terrorists could cause so much more damage breaking our networks.”

Is this hyperbole? In a Webinar poll conducted this morning by telecom expense management firm ProfitLine, 81 percent of responding large enterprise IT and telecom professionals reported disruption to operations from the BlackBerry outage. And 44.5 percent reported "moderate or substantial" impact to enterprise productivity, while only 18.2 percent reported no impact from the outage.

"These numbers show the critical role that wireless devices play in corporate America," said Randall De Lorenzo, ProfitLine's vice president of mobility strategies. "Wireless communication has gone from a travel convenience to a mission critical communications tool."

Nonetheless, one can’t put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak. Wireless e-mail has taken off in the past 12 months, and at this point it’s unlikely users will abandon it. In fact, market penetration of the service could reach as high as 70 percent of mobile professionals by the end of 2007, according to a survey by pollster Global Market Insite Inc. However, for businesses that are heavy users, implementing a disaster recovery back-up plan might be a good idea.

Research In Motion Ltd.

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