Blackberry purgatory

Blackberry BoldBlackberries. You gotta love em. They’re great when they work but sometimes it’s a challenge to get them setup properly. I must have taken at least three phone calls on Friday from clients who needed help getting their Blackberries setup with their corporate email accounts. Two of them were using BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server) and one was using BIS (Blackberry Internet Service).

Blackberry Enterprise Server
If you’re lucky enough to have BES, setting up a new Blackberry is usually a piece of cake. All you have to do is add the user to the Blackberry Enterprise Manager, set an activation password and activate. I usually choose to do a wireless activation because it’s easier to do over the phone. Once you’ve created the password, tell the user to go to Options…Advanced Options…Enterprise Activation. Give them the password that you’ve setup for them and hit Activate. That’s it. Here’s an overview of how the process works.

Here’s a couple of things to watch out for:

1. Make sure they have a good signal. If their signal is spotty, it might take an excessively long time or it might not work at all. The amount of time it takes depends on how good their signal is and how much data they’re trying to sync. I’ve seen it take anywhere from 5-20 minutes.

2. Make sure they have the correct data plan.Phone carriers often charge more for a BES account than they do for a BIS account. If the user doesn’t have the higher-priced BES data plan, the carrier may not allow you to do an enterprise activation. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Call the carrier to confirm the data plan before you spend 2 hours trying to troubleshoot it on your own.

3. Not-so-helpful error messages. If the activation fails with “An error has occurred. Please contact your system administrator” there might be a problem with the password. Reset the password and have them try again. It takes awhile to get used to the Blackberry keyboard so choose a simple password that is easy to type on a small keyboard (e.g. all lower case, no numbers or symbols). This breaks all the normal rules of a good password, but it’s only a one-time activation password. After that, it’s never used again. You might also want to try wiping the handheld and starting fresh.

Blackberry Internet Service
So your company wouldn’t spring for the Blackberry Enterprise Software? Not to worry. Your carrier provides you with something called Blackberry Internet Service (BIS). It’s a web-based application that allows you to setup an email account and control how messages are delivered. It’s actually a service provided by RIM, but each carrier has a different URL for accesing it (for branding of course). Here’s a couple of examples


If you can’t find your carrier, go to Google and type “BIS” and your carrier’s name in the search box. It will probably be one of the first hits that comes up.

If you’ve never signed up, click “Create New Account” You will be prompted for your phone’s PIN number and ESN number. Both can be found on the Options…Status screen. Once you’ve created an account on the BIS site, you will be able to create a Blackberry email address for your device. This will be something like It doesn’t really matter what the address is because once it’s set up, you simply forward your corporate email account to the Blackberry account. So it doesn’t matter if you’re using Exchange, Lotus Notes, Groupwise or some other random mail server. As long as you can forward mail, you’re in business. While you’re still logged in to the BIS website, make sure you edit the properties of your mail account and set the “reply-to” address to be your corporate email address. That way when you send a message from your Blackberry, the recipient will see a recognizable address rather than your generic Blackberry address.

That’s it. Note that BIS is also capable of downloading your mail directly from your corporate mail server using POP3 or IMAP. However, that can be tricky to get working and your mileage may vary. There is a wizard on the BIS website that attempts to auto-detect your mail server settings, but it doesn’t always work and you may have to specify the settings manually. I find it’s much simpler and easier to just forward messages to the Blackberry account. Have fun!


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