Although mobile email is often seen as the killer application for 2.5G and 3G services, its adoption is still far from widespread.
Blackberry tops the market globally, and made play recently of shipping a million devices. But a million is still not a huge number in this industry. Smartner, an enterprise mobile email system provider, reckons it has top market share in the European market, with about 50,000 users of its mobile email client.
But even though these may not be huge numbers, mobilising email, both from an enterprise and consumer perspective, is re-emerging as a hot area.
Ari Backholm, executive vice president of Smartner, said, “Since October 2003 we’ve seen tremendous growth in demand from end users and operators. This year the will be the break out year for mobile email.”
Backholm says the main driver has been the increase in the number of devices which can support wireless email clients. Backholm also says that the market has become a lot simpler for operators to understand.
“You’re beginning to see a few better companies emerging from the hundreds there were two to three years ago. With the downturn the more professional companies have survived. Everyone starts to have their own focus where they are good. “
Backholm namechecked his own company and Blackberry as the only serious players in Europe in terms of operator footprint and device licensing. Smartner has deals with Vodafone (in Italy) and O2 to provide the email client on their own-brand XDAs.
Like Blackberry, Smartner is keen to see its client licensed in smartphones, and has just recently signed an agreement for the SonyEricsson P900.
But there are other companies trying to make a play in the European market.
Good Technology is a US company that has made good business mobilising US corporate email systems. It has just opened an office in the UK from which to hopes to attack the European market, starting with the European operations of its US multi-national clients. But unlike Smartner and Blackberry, which view operators as a primary channel for getting to market, Good prefers a direct relationship with enterprises.
Good’s vp of sales and marketing Sue Forbes said, “On the whole, enterprises like to talk to an enterprise software company about enterprise software.” (Mobile operators are “very important partners” Forbes says, providing the devices and the data plans, while Good provides its software to get the email product up and running.)
One of the principle reasons for this, Good says, is security. Backholm echoes that view.
“Security is the first and foremost question for corporates,” he said. But another new entrant to the European market, Visto’s ceo Brian Bogosian indicates that there may be more lip service paid to security than actual action.
“”If they were worried about security, they wouldn’t be buying Blackberry,” he swiped. Visto has just signed a deal to support Palm OS, and has support for Windows Mobile and Symbian as well.
Whichever way companies such as Visto and Good want to attack the European market, one thing that is often raised is what will happen when Microsoft really works out mobilising Outlook, or if a player like Nokia itself could crack the market. Its 2003 release of Exchange, for instance, incorporated mobile functionality.
Backholm accepts that the Exchange 2003 release means that “Microsoft supports Microsoft end to end,” but if you want to operate a Symbian device against a Microsoft back-end environment “it is not supported any more.”
“The area is not so trivial as you might think. It takes a large time to figure out how it all works. We see that from the Microsoft perspective mobility is not that easy, and for Nokia IT is not that easy. And we are taking advantage of that.”
One thing operators probably will be looking for are companies that let them own the customer. Backholm pointed out “it is in the interests of operators that we let them retain the point of control for the customer, so it they change provider they lose the email service.”
There is the added advantage that mobile email means more data traffic for mobile operators. Smartner’s Duality solution costs around Â£12 per user per month, on top of their data plan. With 95% of business users using less than 6Mb per month, according to Backholm, that would be somewhere in the Â£10 per month per user in mobile data costs.