Wireless e-mail connectivity will be a built-in feature on all smartphones by the end of 2008, according to a new report from Gartner that underscores the shift in the hand-held device market and portends massive future changes.
Gartner said wireless e-mail is on its way to becoming a mainstream mobile application as common as voice communications among end users, but that several factors are hampering uptake of wireless e-mail for the time being.
Network Providers Delay
“Network operators are reluctant to permit widespread messaging access to their networks without collecting fees from those who send such messages,” Gartner Vice President Ken Dulaney said. “However, operators will lose this battle the same way that telecommunications companies lost the battle against an open Internet.”
Smartphones have long included Web surfing capabilities, but not necessarily e-mail client software, making the process of accessing e-mail accounts through a Web interface time-consuming, clumsy and expensive. At the same time, mobile e-mail servers are not widely in place on corporate networks.
In fact, many analysts say mobile network providers have been slow to embrace data services such as e-mail and text messaging out of fear of cannibalizing their core voice-minutes business, which has been an engine of growth and profitability for many of them.
However, failing to do so could result in loss of users to the Blackberry or other options, and mobile carriers are likely to find ways to bundle e-mail and instant messaging in a way that protects their core revenue streams.
Many analysts expect most telecommunications companies to forge partnerships for robust e-mail services in the near future as they recognize the value of being able to provide a full menu of communications services to users.
Dulaney said the situation today is similar to the early days of mobile voice technology. Current mobile e-mail use is limited largely to relatively expensive services such as Research In Motion’s popular Blackberry. At the same time, many enterprises haven’t yet realized the potential productivity benefits of outfitting workers with mobile e-mail.
However, Dulaney said it will take a relatively short period of time for mobile e-mail to reach critical mass among users, especially as companies realize that if approached correctly, adding e-mail to a suite of mobile services could be relatively inexpensive. For instance, Dulaney added, wireless e-mail use could actually cut down on the amount of wireless voice minutes used.
“A business manager might see voicemails dropping precipitously and find real benefits to the fact that messages can be forwarded easily inside and outside the organization,” the analyst said. “The overall cost per message delivered is likely to be lower, given the theory that most phone calls are several minutes long and include the time to connect to the person called.”
The migration toward all-in-one smartphones has been well-documented and has coincided with a plunge in the sale of other types of hand-helds, especially personal digital assistants (PDAs). One notable exception to that trend has been the Blackberry, which enjoys credibility among business users.
Jockeying for Position
Technology companies are rushing to be in position to provide the next wave of communications services. AOL and Yahoo both recently announced deals to license their instant messaging platforms for use on the Blackberry. Also, Microsoft has announced a surprising deal to cross-license technology with Symbian, the creator of one of the most widely used smartphone operating systems.
That deal involves Microsoft’s Exchange server, which the software giant is hoping will become a standard for mobile e-mail able to rival that of Blackberry.
Frost & Sullivan analyst Brent Iadarola told the E-Commerce Times that business users want constant access to e-mail but that even those corporations that recognize the potential productivity gains to be realized are wrestling with how best to make it happen.
For instance, he said, companies might be reluctant to add an entirely new layer of e-mail servers dedicated to serving mobile users and might be open to approaches such as the one Microsoft hopes to create, that enables similar servers to be used for all e-mail and messaging solutions.
Meanwhile, the consumer market is also ripe for the arrival of full mobile e-mail access. Already, Web search and portal companies have invested heavily in providing services via mobile devices, despite the fact that many devices have limitations when it comes to accessing the Web, including limited bandwidth, the high cost of such access and the difficulty of navigating small keyboards.
Easing the use of e-mail on those devices could further boost how often they’re used and create new opportunities for selling mobile.