BlackBerry service still down, compensation for Egyptian users unclear

Ahram Online & agencies, Wednesday 12 Oct 2011

Outage stretches into its third day, with Egypt's mobile operators yet to make a statement about compensating pre-paid customers

Failure in BlackBerry services has spread to five continents (Photo: Reuters)

Messaging and email services for BlackBerry users in Egypt are still down, as outages which have been affecting Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa stretch into their third day.

The problems have spread to North America, with US Twitter users  reporting that their BlackBerrys weren't getting email on Wednesday morning.  In Canada, spokesman Mark Langton of the carrier Bell confirmed that some BlackBerry subscribers were also experiencing problems.
The Twitter accounts of Egypt's three mobile carriers -- Etisalat, Mobinil and Vodafone -- have been flooded with complaints from frustrated BlackBerry users, with many raising the question of compensation for subscribers who have pre-paid their operator for BlackBerry services.
At the time of writing, none of Egypt's operators have fully addressed the issue. 
Ahram Online was unable to get firm details on any compensation. 
Sources at the telecoms firms placed the blame on sole BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM), suggesting this may absolve them of responsibility. 
Unlike other cellphone makers, RIM handles email and messaging traffic to and from its phones. When it encounters a problem, millions of subscribers are affected at once
Egypt's telecoms regulator said it had not been in contact with local mobile operators over the issue.
"I cannot say whether the companies [operators] will pay reparations to their clients or not, it depends on the contract," said Amr Badawy, head of the National Telecommunication Regulation Authority (NTRA).
But he said it was likely some sort of compensations would be offered.
"As a rule users should be compensated in case of service outages. The companies could then refer to RIM and get their share of reparation," he said.
"We have to wait till the problem is resolved then talk about compensation."
In the United Arab Emirates, Etisalat -- which has a subsidiary that is one of Egypt's main operators -- said they would compensate BlackBerry users for the mishap by giving them at least three days of free service. 
Matthew Willsher, chief marketing officer for Etisalat, said it was acting in response to the "exceptional and unprecedented circumstances." 
The problems are adding to the woes of RIM, the Canadian company that makes the phones. Already struggling with slowing sales and a tablet that's been a dud, its shares are approaching a five-year low.
On Tuesday, RIM said a crucial link in its infrastructure had failed, and a backup didn't work either. It said it was now working to get through a backlog of traffic.
"The resolution of this service issue is our Number One priority right now and we are working night and day to restore all BlackBerry services to normal levels," the company said Wednesday.
There are about 70 million BlackBerry users around the world.
BlackBerrys first caught on among professionals in the U.S. and Canada, but in recent years, growth has been driven entirely by overseas markets. In RIM's most recent quarter, two-thirds of BlackBerrys were sold to people outside the U.S. and Canada.
One of the big attractions of the BlackBerry for overseas users is the BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, which works like text messaging but doesn't incur extra fees. That service was affected by the outage. 
On Wednesday, Apple Inc. is releasing software for its iPhones that works like BBM.
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