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If you recognise the term ‘push e-mail’ but aren’t sure just what it refers to or how it can improve the productivity of your mobile staff, keep reading as Windows Middle East explains all...

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By  Matthew Wade Published  August 1, 2006

|~|Get-the-message-MAIN.jpg|~|Push e-mail is all about your messages finding you automatically. i-mate’s devices for instance run Windows Mobile, the latest versions of which can receive constant ‘pushed’ e-mails from your firm’s Microsoft Small Business Exchange Server.|~|In territories where GPRS phone subscriptions are available (such as those all across the Gulf), mobile workers who’s companies have mail servers, such as Microsoft Exchange Server, Lotus Notes and Postfix, have been able to check their work e-mail and surf the net for two or three years. This is done via an employee manually checking for new mail on their GPRS-handset, which is in turn connected to the office’s mail server, or by checking mail on their company’s webmail site, using their laptop and GPRS connection. This method however, while obviously better than nothing, is far from perfect. The reason being that this type of access is ‘user initiated’ - in other words to get your mail you have to connect and refresh (‘Send & Receive’ style), effectively ‘pulling’ messages to your device rather than your inbox being automatically updated. Push e-mail changes all that, by going one step better and ‘pushing’ e-mail to your device. “Push e-mail is an e-mail connection that is ‘always-on’ and allows you to access mail, and respond to it, in real-time,” explains Joe Devassy, sales manager for key accounts at Nokia enterprise solutions Middle East and Africa (MEA). “The benefit to an organisation is that you can increase employee productivity by being able to respond instantly to customers and partners,” he adds. The nitty gritty There are effectively two push e-mail models currently available. The first, which is just beginning to see the light of day here in the Middle East, is what Devassy terms the NOC (Network Operations Center) model. “This type of service is typically provided by a country’s telco operator,” he explains. In the UAE for example, incumbent telco Etisalat launched push e-mail in partnership with RIM back in May this year, effectively bringing BlackBerry-branded handsets to the region for the first time. The second model is the ‘behind the firewall’ (BTF) model. “The cost model for the BTF is based on a perpetual licensing model, whereas the NOC model is based on a recurring monthly cost,” Devassy states. Put more simply still, in the first case the operator takes full responsibility for the service, often charging one bill at a flat rate, while in the second case the company directs e-mails from its mail service to staff, all in-house. In this latter case, the company’s mobile staff need GPRS handset subscriptions (from the in-country operator, as usual), push e-mail-ready handset devices, and depending upon the solution provider there might well be a separate fee or monthly charge per user. Which suits you? So which approach is suited to which type of business? In theory both should and probably will at some point fit all sizes of firm, but the initial telco approach is typically to target big players in the form of large corporates first. This is what Etisalat and RIM are currently doing - talking to companies with hundreds of employees. “We’ve made a decision that we want to launch the Etisalat BlackBerry enterprise solution targeted at the larger corporates,” confirms Etisalat’s senior business development manager for the enterprise, Mark Davies. “We’ve put lots of service components into our offerings - from project management to on-site support of the BlackBerry enterprise service, which connects to the e-mail server, so this particular offering is not the sort of thing that a smaller company could use.” Although Etisalat’s current large-company focus means small and medium sized firms want push e-mail currently only have BTF solutions to choose from, this won’t be the case for long, as in a matter of months, if not weeks, Etisalat is set to offer what Davies terms a “personal push e-mail solution”, targeted towards small and medium-sized firms, as well as consumers. “We should be offering this at round about the end of this summer,” Davies says. Behind the firewall In terms of the solutions suited to small and medium-sized firms right now then, there are several ‘behind the firewall’ offerings available at present. Of the BTF suppliers currently helping firms get ‘pushed’ in this region, i-mate was probably the first to start shouting about its offerings. From a handset-perspective, the firm is exclusively dedicated to dealing only in and with Microsoft Windows Mobile devices. “The Windows Mobile 5-based PDAs and smartphones we sell all have push e-mail capabilities,” explains i-mate’s director of technology, Jon Moss. “The newest models include Microsoft’s ‘Messaging & Security Feature Pack’ (MSFP), which gives you the capability of pushing e-mail from your Microsoft Exchange Server. The so-called ‘AKU2’ upgrade is also available from our Club i-mate website for users with the older, AKU1 version of Windows Mobile 5.” Readers should note that Windows Mobile 2003 devices, such as i-mate’s Jam and SP3, cannot be upgraded to Windows Mobile 5, meaning they can’t run MSFP and aren’t therefore push e-mail-capable. As for why i-mate is so devoted to Microsoft’s OS, Windows Mobile 5 is, says Moss, simply an effective platform that syncs easily with Microsoft’s mail-supporting server OS. “Firms can host their e-mail on the Exchange Server 2003 (SP2) part of Small Business Server. This supports up to 75 users, so it’s perfect for small businesses. Connectivity is really the beauty of Microsoft, in that it really is end-to-end. Plus, Windows Mobile for Pocket PC devices let you view and edit documents in their native format.” Customers with registered i-mate devices receive free 24/7 support, but in the case of their server and device syncronisation, Moss asserts that very little help is actually usually required. “In this case we would recommend the relevant sites and info to get them running, however all the menu options are there within Exchange Server, it’s actually a very simple process,” he explains. i-mate is far from alone ‘behind’ the firewall however. Sony Ericsson and Nokia for instance both also have push e-mail offerings available here. Starting with the latter, Nokia has developed its own ‘Intellisync Mobile Email’ push solution. Effectively an alternative to the direct Microsoft-device-meets-Microsoft-server approach of i-mate, this is device agnostic (meaning it works on any GPRS-capable handset). “So not only does Intellisync support almost all Nokia Series 60 and 80 devices, but it also supports devices from manufacturers that use different operating systems such as Windows Mobile, Palm or Symbian,” Devassy adds. Devassy also claims Intellisync offer other advantages over and above this device flexibility, namely Intellisync’s being what he calls “groupware agnostic, meaning it supports almost all messaging systems”, solution agnostic, “we support Microsoft Active Sync, Visto, Smartner and more,” and network and network operator independent. “This last benefit means that no matter which network operator you go with, it works. If you’re in a location where you don’t have GPRS roaming, you could use nearby WiFi and continue to get e-mails,” Devassy explains. Meanwhile, all Sony Ericsson devices with e-mail clients on-board (most models, from the K600 onwards) support push e-mail. “Our Symbian-based phones provide full support for Ericsson-EMO, BlackBerry, Microsoft Exchange and several more server-end solutions,” says Shahid Haider, product marketing manager for Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications in the Middle East and Africa. “We believe in standards,” Haider adds. “As a compliment we support Ericsson-EMO and Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync as our default solutions. A business doesn’t need any extra hardware, just their current e-mail servers.” Counting the cost As i-mate’s devices are Microsoft-based and all its new models include the latest, push-capable version of Windows Mobile, the business costs of this approach are minimal (once of course mobile workers have i-mate or another vendor’s Mobile 5-based devices). “When push e-mail has been set-up, your only ongoing costs are actually your GPRS costs,” says Moss. “At home, you could always connect device to PC or use WiFi, so that you only use GPRS when you’re out and about.” i-mate does then also recommend and thus aim to sell in its proprietary ‘i-mate suite’ solution, with which a firm’s IT manager can manage remotely manage data and devices. Comprising three applications in all - i-mate Control, i-mate 1-View and i-mate Backup - this is available in trial form from Nokia’s Intellisync solution meanwhile involves a software license per user, one time installation fee and support agreement (which is compulsory for the first year). “We don’t have a server license, that’s free, so per user it’s just a one-time fee of US $160,” explains Devassy. “This is in addition to the country operator’s GPRS subscription for each device and the initial installation at the server end (this includes training your IT manager). This set-up costs up to US $1000.” Nokia is also offering free trials of its solution. “Ten users for 30 days is our current entry level pilot scheme,” Devassy says, “but if a 20-person operation wants a two month test, we’ll consider that too.” In summary then, if your business employs staff who are regularly out on the road and you think push e-mail might be a good way to improve their connectivity and so boost their productivity, consider your current hardware before picking a particular vendor or solution to work with. If for instance your team is using Windows-based smartphones or PDAs already, or you have the funds available and want to purchase new devices for them to use at work, i-mate’s quick to set-up Microsoft-supported approach could be for you. Should your business be using a non-Microsoft server or your field staff already own a wide mix of push-capable handhelds running different operating systems, then talking to a flexible solution provider, such as Nokia, could well be a sensible move. ||**||

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