Blackberry handheld email THE MOBILE EMAIL REVOLUTION

Technologies that genuinely changed the world used to be a once or twice a century occurrence but these days life-changing technologies seem to be appearing ever more frequently. Back in the eighties it was the PC that radically changed the world of work. In recent years Blackberries have done the same. It's another question as to whether these technological revolutions really do deliver the productivity improvements they promise (remember the paperless office) but there can be no doubt that they do make the world a very different place.

Email has revolutionised the workplace. Recently email has overtaken the phone as the primary means of business communication. And now, you can have your email wherever you happen to be. Or can you? In fact, for a lot of business people especially those running smaller companies the whole thing is a bit of a minefield. Just what is possible? How much does it cost? And how exactly do I go about getting some of this stuff working for me?

BLACKBERRY HAS BECOME THE NUMBER ONE CHOICE

Though there are many different approaches and technologies designed to satisfy the requirement for mobile email, it is the Blackberry from RIM Technologies that has captured the imagination of the business world and, consequently, most of the market. It is pretty much beyond argument that Blackberry beats the competition (mainly Windows Mobile 5.0) in the corporate world. It is not so clear that the same is true at the lower end of the market. Nonetheless, Blackberry is the device that most people think of first so it is worth having a clear understanding of how it can work for you.

GETTING THE HANDSET

This article is written primarily from the perspective of a UK based small business person who, like most, currently uses Microsoft Outlook to handle his or her email needs.

Any of the major mobile network operators will provide you with a Blackberry as an upgrade to your existing handset or as part of a new contract. You will also need a Blackberry data tariff which is usually capped in the region of £25 per month including overseas roaming charges (in this respect it beats all other data tariffs). They will also provide you with a mobile email address from which email will be pushed to your Blackberry. This is all you need to send and receive email from a Blackberry. But, this doesn't really get you all that far because most business people today have a pre-existing email address and many also have their own email server.

SEND AND RECEIVE FROM YOUR OWN ADDRESS

To receive your own email on your Blackberry you can provide the network operator with details of your mail server and have your Blackberry set to occasionally 'dial' in to your server to pick up email. Far more effectively, assuming you have one, you can configure your mail server to forward all received mail to your mobile email address and thereby receive it on your Blackberry. You can also set up your Blackberry account so that emails sent from it appear to originate from your own address. You are now moving towards a full mobile email solution in that you can send and receive emails, using your own email address from your Blackberry.

There is, however, one very important downside to bear in mind. As described so far, when you send an email from your Blackberry it stays in your Blackberry sent items rather than being kept in your office Outlook sent items. For those companies that need to maintain an audit trail of client communications this is a serious drawback. Thankfully there is a way around this; but things do get a little more complicated at this point.

DESKTOP SYNCHRONISATION

Many business people have dabbled with PDAs over the years and have got used to the (often slightly less than reliable) process of synchronising these with their PCs and Microsoft Outlook via a USB cable, Bluetooth or other connection. Whatever the precise connection method, the PDA device has to be, at least, close to the PC. Well you can do exactly the same with your Blackberry, synchronising your contacts, calendar, sent items and so on with MS Outlook on your PC. This is not much more than a sticking plaster solution in that most of us now have a PC at home as well in the office and many of us also have a laptop. Three computers is certainly not uncommon and the reality of synchronising across all the three is an experience which, in practice, most of us can do without.

SERVER SYNCHRONISATION

The solution is to synchronise directly with your own Microsoft Exchange email server. Blackberry can do exactly this and it can do it over the air without the need for wires, Bluetooth proximity, infrared or anything else. The snag is, in order to do this you need a separate server running Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES). The software is usually available for free as long as your mobile phone provider expects you to spend enough. Some providers suggest that BES can be run on your MS Exchange server. The consensus amongst IT support professionals though is that it must be run on its own separate hardware.

To really deliver on its promise Blackberry requires you to have your own MS Exchange server as well as a separate BES server. Leaving aside some minor questions about the interface between the two, if you can meet these requirements Blackberry is an excellent solution.

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