For the second time in a year, the Canadian maker of the popular BlackBerry e-mail and phone device suffered a major breakdown Monday that cut off wireless e-mail throughout North and Central America.

Research in Motion Ltd. said in a message to corporate customers that a “critical severity outage” left users with no ability to send or receive e-mail messages.

E-mail service stopped before 1 p.m. Pacific time and began to return about four hours later.

The blackout upset some business owners who rely on the devices.

In Barcelona, Spain, at a worldwide wireless conference, some people found they couldn’t send messages home to New York and that others were having the same problem.

Executives at Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, were not available for comment.

They also were unavailable for several days last April when a massive outage gave BlackBerry owners some perhaps unwanted relief from thumbing the tiny keyboards on the devices, which have become so addictive they’ve been dubbed CrackBerrys.

At that time, executives were roundly criticized for failing to keep their customers informed about any progress during the 14-hour outage.

After several days, the company acknowledged that an upgrade had gone awry and had triggered a series of glitches that led to the outage.

Monday’s notices indicated that the executives had learned their lesson, though they failed to supply any information to the public on company websites.

The e-mail blackout didn’t affect phone service or instant text messaging, though it did block Web access for many.

Some customers of Rogers Communications Inc., the biggest Canadian carrier of BlackBerry service, had no problems.

“I expect some IT [information technology] managers will be following this situation and looking to diversify their corporate strategy,” said analyst Michelle Warren at the Toronto office of Info-Tech Research Group.

“If the pain continues for a long period of time, you will see some of them look for an alternative service like Windows Mobile, probably as an addition to BlackBerry service,” she said.

The outage occurred as Research in Motion has been enjoying rapid growth as the favored device for much of corporate America and the federal government, fending off threats from such players as Apple Inc.’s iPhone and a series of Nokia smartphones.

Analysts expect the company to have nearly 14.2 million customers by the end of the month, a 73% increase over 8.2 million a year earlier.