Mobile E-mail War Heats Up
By Carlo Longino, Mon Apr 18 22:45:00 GMT 2005

Consolidation in the mobile e-mail market portends a coming fight for small- and medium-sized business customers.

Research In Motion's had a rough go of things lately. Its patent fight with NTP has ended under some strange circumstances, OS competitor Symbian said it had licensed technology from Microsoft so devices running it could access Exchange servers, then last week rival Seven said it was buying smaller competitor Smartner. All these moves add up to significantly more competitive playing field for the CrackBerry dealer.

It would appear that the proxy space -- where products like RIM's servers act as a go-between for corporate e-mail servers (generally Exchange) -- is becoming commoditized, and separate vendors are focusing on different types of users and different geographic areas. Seven's approach, for instance, is a white-label system operators can have embedded in phones that's aimed at small companies and so-called prosumers. RIM's got a lot of strength with larger companies, but perhaps not as much with individual users. But these different targets should provide business for both companies -- and of course be a boon for operators.

The juggernaut, of course, is Microsoft. While it pushes Windows Mobile, the real money for the company is in middleware and servers, as its ActiveSync server licensing deals indicates, dictating its slightly more friendly approach. But what's interesting is how device manufacturers are licensing as many of these different technologies as they can so as not to alienate any potential users; and how companies like RIM, once dependent on its own devices, are licensing the technology to them.

This results in a lot of control being in the carriers' court, and will make a winner out of companies that get their backing. Operators around the world have been beating down RIM's door, hoping to take advantage of the data-traffic and ARPU boost BlackBerrys deliver. Seven's happiness to take a back-seat role also wins them favor, and an operator with offerings with RIM technology for corporate users and Seven for smaller users could be a winning combination.