In Japan, Microsoft and NTT DoCoMo have created a joint company called Mobimagic to provide an application service provider (ASP) service called WiZus. WiZus lets companies access Exchange services over i-mode, NTT DoCoMo's mobile Internet-access system.

I discussed with Mobimagic's representatives how my company might use their service with mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to access information. Our discussion revealed problems that Mobimagic or other ASPs must resolve before my company can use WiZus.

Mobimagic supports four Outlook features on i-mode phones and PDAs:

  • email access
  • Contacts access and management
  • Calendar access
  • Tasks management

If you use a PC, you can access more features (e.g., file-sharing, meeting scheduling). Mobimagic soon will add schedule management for individuals and groups, conference scheduling, creation of daily sales reports and their input into a customized database for Exchange, and sharing of customer database information.

The availability of these features over mobile phones that use i-mode would be a boon to my company because employees must track many products and sales personnel's customer contacts. Notebook PCs are still too big for the sales force to carry, and our IT department hasn't yet trained personnel how to use PDAs. However, everyone already has a mobile phone and knows how to use i-mode services and personal email.

However, I identified three obstacles to my company's adopting WiZus. First, this type of service requires a separate Exchange server at the ASP's site. Mobile users can access the ASP's Exchange server, in which I would have to create new accounts. However, we can't link our company Exchange server to the ASP's Exchange server. We need some type of gateway service, which Mobimagic doesn't provide.

My second concern is security. I foresee new security problems and virus introduction as a result of intruders using mobile phones to break into corporations. The Mobimagic ASP doesn't use any firewall or security filtering when a user accesses email with i-mode. Because of these security risks, a gateway from an ASP to companies isn't feasible until the ASP can be sure that it can protect their client companies.

The third problem is mobile phones' limited ability to read mail. Mobimagic told me that compression technology isn't yet available for handheld phones. I hope that companies such as C2C Systems, which uses MaX Compression and encryption for Outlook clients, can somehow integrate compression into these devices.

Mobimagic responded to my concerns by collaborating with Big Bang System (BBS) to provide a unique solution. BBS provides a mobile gateway service called ExLook 2000 for Exchange 2000 Server and ExLook 2.0 for Exchange Server 5.5. ExLook uses a proprietary system called BBSystem WebLoad Technology (BWT). This system requires an ExLook server to be placed behind our company firewall. The other piece of the system is NTT DoCoMo Mobile Gateway, which resides at Mobimagic and which that company can manage and support.

With this system, BBS offers six security solutions:

  • Internet without encryption—no security at all
  • Internet with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)
  • a dedicated line (from the NTT DoCoMo gateway to the company firewall)
  • a VPN with a private line
  • a one-time password that uses Secure Computing's SafeWord authentication
  • phones with unique serial numbers

In the last option, all mobile phones have a serial number that's recorded in the gateway database. Only those recorded phones have valid access. If a user loses the phone, the user must contact the administrator to disable the account. (A port on the firewall must be open for the servers to talk to each other.)

My company most likely will adopt the SSL solution. Most people don't share their mobile phones, and you must input your Windows NT ID and password. This solution addresses my concern about security. With regard to compression, Sony has just released a new Java-based phone that lets you download limited information.

Therefore, I think Mobimagic and BBS have addressed all my concerns. Mobimagic works closely with Microsoft, and Mobimagic is planning to introduce Microsoft GroupBoard for Microsoft Exchange 2000 into its product. (GroupBoard is a network-solution product that uses advanced Exchange collaboration features. Microsoft is testing the product in Japan.)