Vodafone has brought out its own business-oriented "push" mobile e-mail service - and is selling it alongside similar services from Blackberry and Microsoft.
The mobile giant is hoping to simplify the fragmented and complicated mobile e-mail market, but it is going to be tricky as it is now selling several options under the same brand. Vodafone's own offering, based on Visto's push e-mail software, comes with a server and management features very similar to the Blackberry Enterprise Server, which Vodafone also sells.
To add to the fun, the company is also selling Microsoft's the mobile e-mail service supported in the latest versions of Microsoft Exchange and mobile flavours of Windows, which currently synchronises mobile e-mail at intervals, but will go "push" in the new year.
"Mobile e-mail really has changed the landscape," said John Lillistone, head of enterprise data services at Vodafone UK, quoting studies that say e-mail is now essential to 95 percent of IT professionals, and Blackberry has made mobile e-mail visible.
Vodafone Business e-mail and the Blackberry service both cost a flat rate of £28 per month for e-mail, calendar and contacts delivered from a corporate server behind the firewall. An e-mail-only version which hooks into an ISP POP e-mail account is £10 to £15 per month. Both have an additional £41 roaming charge, with data then going onto a £8.75 per megabyte tariff.
For the next few months, the Vodafone branded offering looks better value, as the company is offering the corporate server free till the end of May. The corporate server should be comparable to Blackberry Enterprise Server, as it includes a new device management function, which gives an administrator a remote view of the state of the device, and will shut down a lost handset and manage the roll-out of new software and patches to the devices.
"Device management is a new feature, beyond the mobile e-mail available from Vodafone in other countries," said a Vodafone spokesperson. "We held back the launch in the UK in order to have a more complete product."
With management on a par, the difference between the two services is in the handsets supported. Vodafone Business e-mail supports Microsoft and Symbian smartphones. The Blackberry services supports the familiar Blackberry clients, and - finally - some non-Blackberry devices, specifically the Nokia 6800 series and "coming soon" the Nokia Communicator series, and the VPX - Vodafone's version of the HTC BlueAngel, also known as the O2 XDA II, and the T-Mobile MDA 3 etc.
Meanwhile, the Microsoft service is at an early stage. It requires people to be running Windows 2003, and works with the most recent Windows Mobile devices. There will be a fixed tariff for this, but given the likely slow take-up, Vodafone has not announced what this will be.
Despite now having a comparable service, Vodafone will continue to push Blackberry. As well as claiming 40 percent of the UK mobile business market, Vodafone UK also says it is Blackberry's leading customer outside the US.
"The Blackberry service is for larger companies, and those established with Blackberry," said Lillistone. The Vodafone-branded service extends that to smaller companies, and can be added to existing phones, he said.