Bruce Fireman, the director of finance for London-based investment firm Culver Holdings PLC, used to have so much trouble getting his e-mail while on the road that he tracked down a wireless e-mail solution for his company on his own.
Fireman, who is not a technophile, discovered a mobile e-mail service that allows users to access corporate e-mail from a variety of devices, regardless of how they connect to the Internet. So far, that service -- provided by Reply Wireless Global Ltd. -- has allowed Fireman to get much more work done when he is out of the office.
Fireman often works from the company's offices in London and Cardiff, Wales, as well as from home. He said that he regularly takes the 200-mile train trip between London and Cardiff, and that the trip represents an ideal time to go through his e-mail. But when the company abandoned its Web-based e-mail system, he could no longer access e-mail from outside the office, and long train trips suddenly meant lots of wasted time.
Even when the company had the browser-based Web mail system, Fireman said, the setup wasn't ideal. Carrying his laptop with him everywhere to access e-mail was cumbersome.
With the Reply system, he uses a Palm T2 with a keyboard attachment. Fireman catches up with e-mail on the train, and he can open and make changes to attachments. The service costs between 10 and 20 pounds a month, which is less than a BlackBerry subscription, and it doesn't require the purchase of a new device. In addition, this service allows mobile calendaring.
Users of Reply's service first log in to the Reply system. Once authenticated, they log in to their company's e-mail server. Reply works with both Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes. All the company needs to provide is a secure link.
London-based Reply has licensed OneBridge Mobile Groupware from mobile system vendor Extended Systems Inc. When Reply's servers detect a change in data, such as a new e-mail or a change in a user's calendar, the system delivers that data to the device. Since the system is not browser-based -- it works with a device's native e-mail software -- there is no need to reformat the information for specific devices, said Rob Silver, Reply's sales and marketing director.
Silver said that companies are interested in this e-mail service because it is much easier to use a service offering than to deploy internal systems for mobile e-mail and calendaring.
"You don't need any server, [and] there are no server or startup costs. The barrier to entry is reduced to almost nothing," Silver said.
Reply's system works with the Palm, Symbian and Pocket PC operating systems.
Reply Wireless is one of a number of companies, big and small, to offer wireless e-mail as a service. One of the best known is Research in Motion Ltd., with its popular BlackBerry product. But many others are tapping into this market as well, said Peter Firstbrook, a senior analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group.
E-mail is the first application that companies look at when they choose to offer their employees mobile access to data, he said, and the competition among mobile e-mail providers is strong. One company, Wireless Knowledge, a subsidiary created by Microsoft and Qualcomm Inc., struggled on its own, and its assets were eventually folded back into Qualcomm, Firstbrook said.
Many companies are likely to turn to their wireless carriers for such services. And large players like Nokia Corp. are targeting mobile e-mail services as well.
There is certainly a demand for Reply's offering in the small-business space, Firstbrook said.
Reply is currently offering services in Britain, France and Italy. There are no current plans for a rollout in the United States.
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