RIM's future strong despite BlackBerry outages and outraged users

Some users angered by service outages but remain faithful

A data service outage affecting some BlackBerry users nationally this week seems to have left them angry but not deeply concerned about the future of BlackBerry's maker, Research In Motion Ltd.

"I don't see myself as losing faith in RIM, [but I'm] more disappointed and frustrated than anything," said Joe Sanders, a longtime BlackBerry user and moderator for BlackBerryforums.com who briefly lost service Tuesday and heard from others who were upset.

Sanders' sentiment, expressed via e-mail, was echoed by others who lost service for as long as 24 hours on U.S. carriers, an indication that the problem was due to either RIM's network service or its BlackBerry devices. RIM has not commented, but T-Mobile USA said the problem was fixed late Wednesday and offered an explanation for what happened that Sanders and others said was nearly the opposite of what they detected.

"What bothers me is [RIM]'s not letting us know what is really wrong," wrote BlackBerry user John Maguire, a police officer based in New Jersey, in an e-mail. "After this last [outage], I'm losing faith very fast." Maguire said he lost service on his BlackBerry over the Verizon Wireless network earlier this week, meaning he didn't have access to e-mail while in his cruiser. "We use e-mail for all kinds of communication."

Teresa Boardman, a real estate agent for Saint Paul Home Realty in St. Paul, Minn., lost BlackBerry data service for 24 hours Monday to Tuesday. She said that although she didn't lose business, the outage "made my life a living hell." Still, she didn't condemn RIM and said she has used BlackBerry devices since 2003. "I can't think of any device that I own that I get such wonderful support for," she said. Her lingering worry is that "outages used to be few and far between."

However, Sanders and industry analysts said RIM's future is basically strong, despite this week's sporadic outage and an even more serious one last December.

The past year has seen more minor service outages with RIM than in years past, probably as a result of RIM's constant attempts to upgrade software and hardware, said Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI Research.

"Outages do shake your confidence in what the back-end RIM infrastructure can support, but BlackBerry users know that the best [wireless] experience still has the BlackBerry brand on it," Burden said in an interview. "I don't think outages shake user confidence too much, but the illusion is now gone that this is rock-solid service."

Burden noted that network outages are not unique to RIM, and many outages are attributable to individual carriers. "I don't think the outages end up hurting RIM," he added.

RIM has been and will continue to be a wireless e-mail giant, especially with corporate users whose devices have been certified as data secure from their companies' IT shops. Part of that success is due to RIM's frequent updates to BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), which had its Version 5 update last year.

Sanders, who runs a printing business in Birmingham, Ala., uses a small-business/consumer version of BES, called BlackBerry Internet Service, or BIS, which he said will get a 3.0 update later this month. "We don't have to wait annually for major upgrades of features," he noted, pointing out that BIS 2.8 was released last summer with support for Gmail, among other features.

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