The reason I chose to read Losing The Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff was not just about learning what happened to BlackBerry but what happened to a community.

losing signal

The Book Losing the Signal

BlackBerry was the heart of the Waterloo Tech community and the co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie revered as rock stars in their field.

But, as the book outlines, in October 2011 a faulty router sent BlackBerry users in a panic. The NOC (Network Operating System) in Slough, England was down. The NOC in Slough supported Europe, the Middle East and Parts of Asia. The NOC was responsible for the email data that is sent on BlackBerry’s service network.

The outage started on a Monday. It continues onto Tuesday, when South American users phones BlackBerry’s were affected. On Wednesday it had spread to the United States and Canada.

The main services that were interrupted were text messaging and email. Since BlackBerry’s were primarily used for business the units were now only functional for voice calls and voice mail.

When the news hit fast the community of Kitchener-Waterloo held their breath. The stress of the continued outage of the servers was felt.

The world looking at the Waterloo region, and Research In Motion (the Blackberry’s name at the time), under such a large magnifying glass was nerve racking.

The front page of the local paper heralded the news daily until the service was restored 3 days later.

The timing of the outage couldn’t have been worse.

Stock was down close 60% compared to the previous year and overall sales were down.

The book doesn’t just focus on the fall of BlackBerry, but also starts right back to its roots. That’s what makes Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry such an interesting book to read.

We get to see a painted picture what life was like for Mike Lazaridis, emigrating from Istanbul, although Greek in heritage, to Windsor, Ontario and the immense skill he demonstrated with building things at a young age.

Jim Balsillie a rambunctious youth who had the brains to back up his ambition.

Reading the book you get connected with in the inner workings of the company. Like you were in those board rooms when they were pitching the early prototypes, even the one that Mike Lazaridis left in the taxi (only to be rushed in by the secretary with perfect timing).

BlackBerry started to decline with the distractions that came from a patent infringement lawsuit from NTP in the US. In the 5 years that it took from the start, through the appeals and then into settlement negotiations the company failed to see what other companies had up their sleeve.

With the loss of 62% of its workforce over the period of 2011 to 2013 the community was at a loss. With over 5000 of those jobs coming from Waterloo.

Its initial shock to the economic system of the region is over, and BlackBerry, now being guided by John S. Chen, are still fighting an uphill battle.

The book is co-written by Jacquie McNash, a senior writer with The Globe and Mail and Sean Silcoff, a business writer with The Globe and Mail, the writing styles are very similar and very fluid.

Don’t let the whimsical cover fool you, this is a serious account of BlackBerry, and its leadership.

The content is easy to follow, and you don’t need an engineering degree to understand the technology that they talk about in the book and how it evolves. The authors do give detailed explanations that any level of tech ability can understand.

The book gets personal where Mr. Lazaridis and Mr. Balsillie are concerned. Lots of highs and some very dark lows. Sides of the CEO’s that no one, outside of BlackBerry and family, every saw.

Communication Quote

This was part of the problem

An important read for anyone in the technological field as well as business. Don’t look to it as a how-to book for business, look at it as an historical account of BlackBerry.

The book reads quickly, only 250 pages long with a substantial index and notes of the references.

Available only in hardcover it retails for on average $30 however it is on sale now on Amazon.com for $17 USD and online at Indigo for $21 CDN. The Kindle edition is priced at $16 for the ebook and on Kobo for $17.