Mobile mail helps beat the competition

28 Mar 2003

Since Vodafone and O2 launched GPRS (general packet radio service) last year the mobile data market has been heating up. GPRS is an upgrade of the existing networks to allow for faster transmission of data.

It also promises always-on connections, eliminating the need to dial up for data services. It also brings changes in the billing system for data calls. GPRS customers will now be charged on the basis of the amount of data sent or received rather than on the duration of a call.

One of the chief targets for this new technology is the mobile business user. Whereas before accessing email on the move was a slow, ponderous business, GPRS makes it practical to regularly check email while on the move. Access to the web and other data services are an added bonus.

One company which has taken advantage of new mobile data solutions is RSEL (Ray Staunton Electrical Ltd). Based in Ennis, Co Clare, the company is a specialist electrical and mechanical engineering services company. The company is a full service provider of everything from electrical contracting to security and IT and cable installations. It employs just over 100 people and has offices in Limerick, Galway and Dublin.

RSEL opted for Vodafone’s Email Anywhere product as a means of keeping staff in touch with business critical developments. According to managing director, Ray Staunton (pictured), the company has a team of people that is often on the road, himself included, for whom keeping in touch is vital. “We’d need to see certain documents such as specifications or job updates as they come in and found that Email Anywhere suited that requirement,” he says. “I’ll admit that it took us a while to get into it, but when we did an upgrade on our IT systems recently and had to go without it for a couple of days, we really missed it,” he adds.

Email Anywhere is designed to offer real-time mobile access to email, calendar, tasks and contacts. It works by accessing existing MS Exchange, Lotus Domino Server, POP3 (post office protocol) or IMAP (internet message access protocol) email accounts. It can provide mobile access via the web, Wap, personal digital assistant (PDA) interfaces.

According to Vodafone, the solution will work with virtually any existing phone or PDA. For example, the system is not confined to GPRS enabled handsets and will work on GSM or HSCSD (high speed circuit switched data) handsets also. This will eliminate the need to buy new handsets. Furthermore, no new software is needed, either on the devices themselves or on the clients’ email server. The service will cost €10 per month for each licence.

Customers then pay as usual for the amount of data exchanged in the case of GPRS or the amount of time spent online in the case of GSM or HSCSD. Security is also an element of the Vodafone offering. Connection between a corporate local area network and the Vodafone network is secured using the secure sockets layer protocol. This uses the public and private key encryption system from RSA Security (default 512 bit keys), which also includes the use of a digital certificate. Virtual private networks can also be used.

Staunton’s team mostly accesses the service via mobile phones. “We very rarely have to send emails and mostly use it to download new information, so a mobile phone is perfect for that,” he says. The Nokia 6310 is the main handset employed by the company. While Staunton is happy with email access over the phone, he says that its performance in conjunction with the car kit could do with a lot of improvement.

Staunton also uses a Palm Pilot, but these days he relies on his phone mostly for email since he sees it as more convenient. “Vodafone have also told us that they’ll be introducing text alerts when new mail arrives and we’ll almost certainly sign up for that. It will be a big benefit knowing exactly when to check your email,” he adds.

“We see it as another add on to our IT infrastructure,” he says. “Our business is extremely competitive and we feel that this provides us with an advantage. A great deal can happen in a few minutes and when out of the office it can be imperative to respond to a query. It can make all the difference between winning or losing a contract simply because you couldn’t respond to your customer until the following day.”

By Dick O’Brien