October 13, 2011 7:07 pm

RIM turns to restoring faith of customers

Research In Motion said its BlackBerry services had been finally restored on Thursday morning after more than three days of disruption to millions of customers on five continents.

Mike Lazaridis, founder and co-chief executive of Canada’s RIM, apologised to customers for what he called “the largest disruption we have ever experienced” and did not rule out RIM paying compensation in an effort to rebuild customer trust.

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Paul Taylor

A hardware failure in the company network operations centre in Slough outside London on Monday morning disrupted BlackBerry email and messaging for an estimated 30m-40m BlackBerry users.

Mr Lazaridis acknowledged in a YouTube video statement and in a later press conference that RIM had failed many of its users.

“I want to apologise to all the BlackBerry users we let down,” Mr Lazaridis said. “Our inability to quickly fix this has been frustrating.” He added: “We have worked 12 years since the launch [of BlackBerry] to win the trust of 70m customers and we will work to win that trust back.”

The service disruption generated a wave of anger among BlackBerry users on social networks, including Twitter, where many BlackBerry owners have said they will now consider switching to rival smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone 4GS, which goes on sale on Friday.

Others, including some mobile phone network operators, have said they will seek compensation from RIM for the service outage.

Asked during the press briefing whether RIM would be willing to pay compensation, Mr Lazaridis declined to answer directly and said “our focus has been 100 per cent on getting systems back up and running”. But he added that RIM was now “turning its attention” to customers and promised: “We will get back to them.”

The Slough operations centre is one of three key data centres operated by RIM and handles BlackBerry data traffic in Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa. However, Mr Lazaridis said other users in the Americas were subsequently affected by the “cascading’ effect of the failure throughout the network.

He denied that the latest outage points to a fundamental weakness in RIM’s network architecture that he and Jim Balsillie, RIM’s co-chief executive, claimed had been 99.97 per cent reliable over the past 18 months.

Analysts suggest that the latest BlackBerry network outage – the worst since an outage swept North America two years ago at a time when RIM’s overseas user base was significantly smaller – could hardly have come at a worse time for RIM and could derail the company’s attempt to fight back against intense competition from rival smartphone manufacturers, including Apple and handset makers using Google’s Android operating system.

They note that RIM’s beleaguered management is also in the midst of a battle with dissident shareholders who want the company to consider its strategic options including a potential sale of the business or its extensive patent portfolio.

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