BlackBerrys Work Through Quake While Calls Fail in Boon to RIM

BlackBerry e-mail messages were delivered as usual after an earthquake struck Virginia today while calls failed, a potential boon to manufacturer Research In Motion Ltd. as it tries to win back lost market share.

The device, indispensable for many bankers, executives, lawyers, politicians and Washington lobbyists, relies on thousands of RIM servers for its e-mail service instead of phone companies’ networks. Some calls failed because systems of carriers including Verizon Communications Inc. were clogged as people tried to reach friends, relatives and colleagues.

The BlackBerry, after its debut a decade ago, became the No. 1 smartphone in the U.S. by ensuring clients’ communications are reliable, a selling point that helped it attract users including President Barack Obama. RIM is now trying to revive sales growth after losing its lead position to Apple Inc.’s iPhone and devices running Google Inc.’s Android software.

“RIM certainly has a reputation for being reliable when it comes to messaging and being secure and that’s what they’ve built their success on,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Teaneck, New Jersey.

RIM’s service has operated normally all day, said Marisa Conway, a spokeswoman for the Waterloo, Ontario-based company. Verizon, AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. experienced a surge in phone calling and said they had no immediate reports of network damage after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

‘Heavy Call Volume’

“You have to call several times to get through some places,” Peter Thonis, a spokesman for New York-based Verizon, said in an interview. “It’s very temporal. I know of no network issues at this time” on the wireless or landline networks, he said.

Scott Sloat, a spokesman for Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint, said the company is “experiencing an intermittent mass calling event, as is expected following an incident of this nature.” Sprint Nextel has had no reports of “impact to its network” and encouraged customers to send text messages rather than place calls to reach family and friends, he said.

“We have no reports of network damage, but we are seeing heavy call volume,” said Mark Siegel, a spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T.

RIM rose 99 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $27.50 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The stock has lost 53 percent this year.

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