Are you ready for wireless messaging? At Microsoft Exchange Conference 99 (MEC99), I saw more exposure to this technology than at any previous event. The technology appears to be maturing, and Microsoft is now ready for wireless messaging in Exchange 2000.

Wireless messaging is becoming more of a reality for Exchange deployments, with vendors such as Blackberry and others coming to market with Exchange Server integration. Today, most of these vendors have proprietary methods of getting your inbox into small form-factor wireless devices such as pagers and cell phones. In the long term, vendors will embrace standards such as Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). Several vendors already have announced support for WAP, and Microsoft will make WAP available for Windows CE devices.

For now, most vendors take a proxy approach to getting messaging and collaborative data to the wireless device. Obviously, the rich content that most of us experience in the form of messages, attachments, appointments, and contacts from Outlook doesn’t translate well to a small LCD-screened device. Some conversion must occur because that 20MB PowerPoint file that your boss sent you wouldn’t be appropriate for your pager. Vendors implement the proxy approach with either a client or server. Whether client or server-based, the wireless messaging proxy service communicates with Exchange Server via Messaging API (MAPI) or other protocol and converts your inbox content to a format that wireless devices can easily transmit and read. The proxy service changes Exchange Server's rich text to plain text and strips off the attachments. The proxy service then forwards this content (typically using SMTP) to the wireless network and your device receives it. As a participant in wireless messaging, you can then read, reply, forward, and send messages, and view contact and calendar information.

Wireless messaging has two notable downsides. First, for message recipients to be properly resolved, you must have all the SMTP mail addresses of everyone you wish to communicate with memorized or stored in your contacts database. Access to the Global Address List (GAL) is not available for the solutions I looked at (although I didn’t see them all). Second, the coverage area of most vendors is limited as they scamper to build their wireless networks.

Mobile email access is something that Exchange users (especially those senior management folks who sign the checks) have been asking for since Exchange Server first shipped. For mobile professionals such as sales representatives, wireless messaging will be a godsend. In the next year, I think we'll see this technology continue to mature and Exchange 2000 will make the process easier with its initiatives around wireless access and standards, such as WAP. If your users are asking for wireless messaging, take a look at some of the wireless messaging vendors and get up to speed on technologies such as WAP.