Last updated: October 11, 2011 1:18 am

BlackBerry blackout in Europe and Mideast

One of the biggest breakdowns in service suffered by BlackBerry users left millions of smartphone owners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa unable to send or receive emails, browse the internet or use messaging services on Monday

Research in Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of BlackBerry handsets, was hit by a network outage at a datacentre in Slough in the UK.

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BlackBerry users and telecom network operators first reported problems with BlackBerry services in midmorning but it was not until 3.30pm local time that RIM acknowledged the problems and issued a brief statement.

“We are working to resolve an issue currently impacting some BlackBerry subscribers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” RIM said in a statement. “We’re investigating, and we apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused while this is resolved.”

At least 10m of BlackBerry’s 70m users are thought to have been affected. The company gave no indication about the cause of the outage, which some suggested might have been caused by a power failure at the company’s main European data hub in Slough – one of several around the world.

RIM was able to restore its email service late on Monday. However, the company said: “Some customers may continue to experience delays with instant messaging and browsing services and our technical teams are working to return services to normal operation as quickly as possible.”

The outage of services prompted a slew of angry complaints and comments from users on Twitter and elsewhere and gloating from rival smartphone owners, including iPhone users. “I must say, as a proud iPhone user, I am immensely enjoying all the #blackberry rants today,” tweeted Dean Sherwood.

The timing of the outage is particularly unfortunate for RIM, which has been struggling in the US and elsewhere over the past year to stop BlackBerry users defecting to rival smartphones, including Apple’s iPhone and Google Android-based devices. The company has also been criticised in the past for being slow to acknowledge and resolve service problems.

Unlike other smartphones that run on network infrastructure operated by the big telecommunications companies, BlackBerry devices also rely on a secure network operated by RIM exclusively for its customers.

While this enables RIM to offer specialised features such as encrypted messaging, it also places a substantial load on RIM’s infrastructure and adds additional points of possible failure. In the past, the company has blamed service outages on software “bugs” and other issues. Last year, the company was forced to suspend services in several Middle East countries after their security services demanded access to encrypted messages.

Later on Monday, RIM issued this statement: “As an update, we can confirm that BlackBerry email services have been restored. Some customers may continue to experience delays with instant messaging and browsing services and our technical teams are working to return services to normal operation as quickly as possible. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience and we will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.”

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