Mobility comes in many flavors

There are several ways to make corporate applications available to wireless users. One is by working with the manufacturer of the device itself—Nokia, for instance, which has a big push on in this area, or Research in Motion, the company behind BlackBerry, which essentially pioneered the mobile market. Most of the device makers have multiple software partners or provide their own packages to help customers access corporate e-mail and other applications.

A second approach is to work with your corporate network provider. AT&T, Sprint and other operators have deals with at least one, and often several, e-mail software providers and provide different levels of functionality for corporate customers.

A third path is to work directly with the software providers, and there are two ways to go here. The first group consists of four major players: Visto, Good Technology, Smartner and Seven Networks. All four provide server software that connects to corporate e-mail systems—typically Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook—from a bevy of supported devices.

Typically, this group of vendors offers security features such as 128-bit encryption built into their products, and most provide ever-advancing management features, including the ability to remotely wipe out a device’s hard drive if it’s lost or stolen. They also offer inventory management and the ability to upgrade a device’s operating system or application software over the air or the network.

In addition to selling the server software, Seven offers a hosted service. It’s also working with Sun to provide mobile e-mail to the next generation of J2ME-based devices. For its part, Good Technology claims 4,000 corporate customers for its e-mail software, while Smartner’s lineup includes several of the U.K.’s leading retail and health-care concerns.

In January, Good Technology introduced a middleware product that allows customers to deploy many corporate applications on mobile devices. Called GoodAccess and based on Web services, it’s being tested by Visa, among others.

In that area, it’s got some catching up to do: iAnywhere (owned by Sybase), Intellisync and Extended Systems are long-established mobile middleware vendors. The advantage of going this route, users say, is that customers can choose to use it for one application, such as e-mail, or extend it to a range of mobile data, including accessing information from custom software that may have been built years ago.

Ultimately, it’s only a matter of time before IBM/Lotus and Microsoft build mobile e-mail support directly into their clients, some observers believe. “They’re biding their time right now, but at some point it’s a given they’ll be providing free mobile e-mail support,” says Tony Rizzo, mobile sector head at The 451 Group. “When they do, that means 210 million enterprise seats will have this capability handed to them.” Whether they will use it is anyone’s guess.

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About the Author

Johanna Ambrosio is a freelance writer based in Marlborough, Mass., specializing in technology and business. Contact her at [email protected].