Mobile E-Mail Expands, Costs Drop

New services and phones ease access to e-mail.
The costs associated with smartphones have restricted their use at many companies, meaning the non-BlackBerry crowd has had to make do without ready access to mobile e-mail.

But now, many phones have QWERTY keyboards and are ready for work. Consumer-oriented products put e-mail capability directly into the hands of end users, while providing form-factor flexibility. Some mobile network operators offer products that take the place of servers and smartphones, and they'll push e-mail to your mobile staff without requiring your business to drop a boatload of cash just to get started.

Many devices can access corporate e-mail if a company has Microsoft Exchange server and Exchange ActiveSync, a synchronization protocol that works with high-latency and low-bandwidth networks. ActiveSync is based on HTTP and XML, and it enables devices such as browser-enabled mobile phones to access a business' information on a server that's running Microsoft Exchange.

Companies such as LG, Nokia, Palm, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson now include the ActiveSync client on their phones. Apple also has added ActiveSync to the iPhone.

EASY AS 1, 2, 3
Setting up corporate e-mail on consumer-grade devices isn't a long or difficult process. An employee can buy a phone at a retail outlet and set it to access corporate e-mail with little or no assistance from the IT department. For example, the Instinct, among other phones, has an e-mail icon on the home screen that lets users connect to almost any e-mail system, and includes all major Internet service providers as well as work accounts. Users enter the same URL they would use for Web mail, input their logon information into the provisioning screen, and the device automatically configures itself.

Sprint offers the Sprint Mobile Email Work, backed by software from Seven, a mobile messaging software provider. E-mail is pushed from the Exchange mailbox to the end user via Seven's network operations center and a signaling channel.

Sprint Mobile Email Work does not cost extra if users already subscribe to Everything plans, which start at $69.99, and the $30 Sprint Pro Pack data plan. Sprint Mobile Email Work is priced at $9.99 per month, in addition to voice and data charges, under other plans from Sprint. Handsets that support this service include the Rumor and Fusic by LG; Motorola's Razr, Razr2, and KRZR; Samsung's Instinct, A900, A900M, and M50; and the Katana, Katana II, and 8400 by Sanyo.

Seven's software also powers Alltel Wireless Axcess e-mail and Office Sync products, and the Xpress Mail service that's provided to AT&T's wireless customers. It supports enterprise push Exchange e-mail as well as POP and IMAP e-mail accounts. The base price of AT&T's Xpress Mail is $4.99 per month and is included in certain data plans.

Office Calls
New products and services cut smartphone costs while letting users access e-mail on the road
LG Rumor Mass-market devices, including Palm's Centro (left) and LG Rumor (right), are equipped with QWERTY keyboards and are easy for users to configure with minimal help from IT

Palm Centro Call/text plans from vendors such as Sprint and Verizon are available at no or low cost for current customers, depending on the plan

Similar service is available for Verizon Wireless users in two options. The first, Wireless Sync, can access POP3, IMAP, and corporate e-mail using technology from Intellisync. Wireless Sync offers e-mail retrieval at timed intervals, although it doesn't offer direct push. Wireless Sync is priced at $20 per month through Verizon's Get It Now services, plus data plan charges. Wireless Sync suffers from some limitations: With this software, users can't, for example, accept or decline meeting invitations sent via Outlook.

Verizon's second e-mail service, RemoSync, may be a better corporate fit. RemoSync uses technology from Remoba to push Exchange e-mail in real time to consumer-grade phones. E-mail goes to the handset and RemoSync notifies the user, who can accept or decline meeting invitations, sync contacts, and update calendar information.

There are some limitations with RemoSync. Users can't open or view attachments, or even download them to their phones. Users can see what file types their e-mail attachments are, but there's no document support.

RemoSync is priced at $10 per month, plus a data plan. Users can choose to pay $1.99 per megabyte or subscribe to an unlimited data plan for $15; tacking on the $10 charge for mobile e-mail brings the total to $25 per month.

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