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Mobile email on 20 keys

Mobile email is no longer reserved for corporate executives and IT departments need to plan for the next wave of mobilization.

With Motorola's acquisition of Good Technology, the mobile email marketplace is heating up. In the enterprise, mobile email is no longer reserved for corporate executives, and IT departments are planning to connect new groups of mobile workers in expanded activity profiles. Armed with such tools as predictive text input and a new generation of carrier email services, IT departments see possibility in their new mandate.

The BlackBerry model
It is understatement to say that Research In Motion's BlackBerry handheld has been successful in corporate environments. This product has defined the corporate mobile email category, and it is the standard by which IT departments measure their mobile email alternatives.

BlackBerry comes at a cost, however, and carrier BlackBerry services can run between $40 and $80 per user per month, with the average BlackBerry user spending about $140 per month on mobile telephony and email. Many large enterprise BlackBerry deployments number in the hundreds of devices, but the next groups of mobile workers targeted for email number in the thousands. Unlike the organic growth of BlackBerry, the next groups of mobile workers will be provisioned en masse, making a BlackBerry-style price tag rather expensive for IT budgets. At current prices, an additional thousand domestic BlackBerry users will add roughly $5 million in ongoing annual service costs plus integration, training, support and help desk resources. IT managers are already looking for ways to manage (and contain) these expenses while expanding mobile email coverage to an ever-increasing population of mobile workers.

Fortunately, the solution is closer than you may think. Current-generation mobile telephones can send and receive email. Wireless operators see the opportunity and are pricing mobile data services according to the device type. The combination of a lower-cost email service deployable to existing handsets is appealing to both carriers and IT departments.

More than a PDA-style smartphone
Many mobile workers neither have nor want a PDA-style "smartphone" with a full QWERTY keyboard. The devices with full keyboards tend to be larger than traditional mobile handsets, and this adds bulk to an already size-sensitive mobile environment.

For workers already proficient with Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging on their mobile handsets, the transition to email is fairly simple. Predictive text input software continues to improve, and existing versions make it easy to send basic messages very quickly. Telephones equipped with 2.5G data networking capabilities (GPRS, EDGE and 1xRTT) perform well with text-based emails, though attachments can prove problematic, especially on older devices.

In deployment scenarios using traditional handsets, email will continue to compete with SMS. And among email users, individual workers use emails in different ways as well. Some will simply "monitor" incoming emails, selecting the ones requiring immediate response and ultimately choosing whether a telephone call or an email is more appropriate. For many of the new generation of connected mobile workers, email monitoring, 20-key devices and predictive text will prove sufficient for mobile email.

MIDlets – J2ME in practice
Since many mobile telephones already support Java, MIDlets provide an easy way to deploy mobile email. Applications such as MovaMail are easy to install and configure, and they work extremely well, though they require either POP3 or Web mail for access to corporate email accounts.

Carrier white label email services from the likes of SEVEN, Visto and Nokia also use lightweight client applications, and these services/platforms provide greater integration with corporate email systems than services such as MovaMail do. Coupled with a device-specific mobile data and email tariff, these carrier email services can be an effective workforce solution.

Different tariffs for different keypads
Wireless operators already know that business users are willing to pay for SMS text messaging. Business SMS expenditures are currently greater than mobile email, though these trends are expected to change in the coming years. Also, carrier experience with WAP-based email services, like Amena's MovilMail in Spain, demonstrates that there is a very large market for users willing to spend a few dollars a month for mobile email services.

In the United States, wireless operator Cingular Wireless has taken the lead in device-specific mobile data plans, offering a "smartphone" unlimited mobile data plan bundled with the carrier's white label mobile email service from SEVEN. Offered with the 20-key Cingular 3125 Windows Mobile 5 clamshell device, the Cingular data plan offers unlimited Web browsing and mobile email for $20 per month. At less than half the cost of the company's BlackBerry service, this is full-featured mobile email capable of integration with corporate email, contacts and calendaring platforms.

The next thousand
The important lesson is to think in new ways about things like mobile email. Not every user needs a QWERTY keyboard, and it will take time to deploy new handsets across the enterprise. What are the ways in which IT departments can deploy email to mobile workers today?

The answers are often simple and pragmatic. And for many IT departments, lower price points, lightweight email clients, and the ability to deliver email to devices with 20 keys will prove to be the motivating factors for large-scale mobile email deployments.

Daniel Taylor
About the author: Daniel Taylor is managing director for the Mobile Enterprise Alliance, Inc. (MEA), and he is responsible for global alliance development, programs, marketing and member relations. He brings over fourteen years of high technology experience and is well known as a subject matter expert on many of the aspects of mobility, including wireless data networking, security, enterprise applications and communications services. Prior to the MEA, Dan held a number of product marketing and development positions in the communications industry.

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