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RIM Devises ‘SWAT Team’ to Uncover Cause of BlackBerry Outage

Research In Motion Ltd., trying to rebuild client faith in its BlackBerry smartphone network after a three-day outage last month, formed a “SWAT team” to find the cause of the failure across five continents.

The group, under Chief Technology Officer David Yach, will go as far as considering whether the server network should be redesigned, Patrick Spence, head of regional sales and marketing, said in an interview today in London.

“Do we need to make any changes to either distribute traffic differently or look at how we do this completely differently?” Spence said. “This will certainly give us pause to figure if there’s something else we need to be doing and so we are looking at what is the longer-term impact. There’s nothing that’s not on the table.”

The network failure began in Europe and the Middle East and spread to North and South America. Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie came under fire for not addressing the failure publicly until the third day, when Lazaridis issued a video apology. Even before the outage, RIM was fending off investor demands for fresh management and trying to stem market-share losses to competitors including Apple Inc.

RIM said the delays were caused by a core switch failure within its infrastructure. While the system is designed to transfer to a backup switch, that didn’t happen, resulting in a large backlog of data that spread across the network.

RIM routes its traffic through two main centers, in Waterloo for North America and in Slough, southern England, for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said Nick Dillon, an analyst at research firm Ovum in London.

Help from Operators

The company would consider sending more traffic through network operators, Spence said today.

Carriers including Vodafone Group Plc, the world’s largest network operator, have offered refunds to some BlackBerry users in territories including South Africa and Egypt.

“We have to earn back their trust, we have to show them that we’re going to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Spence said. “I believe they’ll stick with us, but it’s up to us to earn that trust.”

RIM last week said a software upgrade for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet that will include dedicated e-mail won’t come until February, months after it was initially promised and missing the important holiday season.

“It’s such a big transition to move your platform to this entirely new space that it’s more about getting it right for the next decade,” Spence said. “If you gave me a choice I would say I’ll miss a Christmas to line up for the next 10 after that with products and experiences that are second to none.”

The PlayBook, introduced in April, has struggled to compete with Apple’s iPad. The tablet’s shipments dropped by more than half last quarter following criticisms of its e-mail shortcomings and lack of apps. Deliveries to retailers such as Best Buy Co. fell to 200,000 from 500,000 in the previous quarter as Apple shipped 9.25 million of its market-leading iPad.

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