(Adds comments, updated throughout)
By Wojtek Dabrowski
TORONTO Feb 11 Research In Motion's RIM.TO RIMM.O ubiquitous BlackBerry experienced a "critical severity outage" on Monday afternoon that left users stranded without wireless e-mail access, its maker said.
RIM notified its clients of the outage in an e-mail. Company officials were not available for comment.
"This is an emergency notification regarding the current BlackBerry Infrastructure outage," RIM support account manager Bryan Simpson said in the e-mail, which was sent to the company's large clients. The message said the outage affected business clients and "users of the Americas network."
The notice gave no estimate on the cause, when service might be restored or how many people could be affected.
By about 5:30 p.m. Eastern time -- more than an hour after RIM notified its customers of the problem -- some customers said a few e-mails were trickling through. Others, however, continued to be without service.
Still others appeared to enjoy a respite from a device affectionately dubbed the "CrackBerry" by its more compulsive users. On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Liberal Party spokesman Jean-Francois Del Torchio said things seemed very relaxed for a while.
"It made my life a little bit easier, since I didn't have to reply. But when I arrived at my desktop and I saw all the e-mails I received, I was like, 'Oh, I still need to work'," he told Reuters.
But Carmi Levy, senior vice-president of strategic consulting at AR Communications, said service reliability is a serious concern for companies like RIM, because if problems become routine, they can turn customers and prospective buyers away.
"It's a big issue and it's a growing issue," he said, adding that huge outages can prove to be "a major Achilles' heel" for RIM.
Last April, a massive outage crashed BlackBerry service across North America, leaving thousands of users without access to wireless e-mail.
Co-CEO Jim Balsillie said at the time that such incidents were "very rare" and the Waterloo, Ontario-based company was taking steps to prevent such an outage from happening again.
Executives, politicians, lawyers and other professionals rely on the BlackBerry for its ability to send secure e-mails.
RIM is also adding more retail customers to its subscriber base, which late last year reached about 12 million people worldwide.
RIM shares fell to $93.25 in after-hours electronic trade, from their regular-session close of $94.47 on the Nasdaq market.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange, the shares finished the day C$4.73 higher at at C$94.62.
($1=$1 Canadian) (Additional reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Rob Wilson)