Take this short course in wireless email technologies and business-savvy products

Although I dread carrying my notebook computer on business trips, I need access to corporate email while I'm away. But my notebook usually sits in my hotel room, making daytime email access inconvenient and infrequent. Wireless access to Microsoft Exchange Server from a cell phone or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) improves internal communications and can give your company a competitive edge. Many enterprises use such services and products—and many more will use them in the future—so keeping up with current wireless email developments and products makes good business sense.

A variety of products can conveniently and securely deliver Exchange email to mobile employees. I discuss several of those solutions here. (For a list of the products I mention, see "Contact the Vendors," page 80.) The Windows 2000 Magazine Lab tested a few products earlier this year (see Tom Iwanski, "Wireless Application Protocol Solutions," http://www.win2000mag.com, InstantDoc ID 19657), but the market has grown substantially since then.

All the products I mention reside in your network's demilitarized zone (DMZ) between your mobile users and your enterprise application servers. The products receive a request from a mobile user, retrieve the requested information from your enterprise applications, then deliver it to the user's handheld device in a format that fits the device's screen. Vendors have different terms for their products (e.g., wireless application servers, wireless data platforms), but I refer to them all as wireless middleware. Every solution I mention lets users employ one email address for all their correspondence. But before we look at products, let's review some wireless basics.

Wireless Basics
Wireless email solutions typically require users to have either a cellular phone equipped with a browser based on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) standard or a wireless modem—equipped PDA or Pocket PC with a WAP or HTML browser or client. (For information about WAP, see Tao Zhou, "Going Wireless," March 15, 2001.) Because PDAs have more powerful processors and larger memory capacities than wireless phones do, some wireless middleware platforms provide clients for PDAs rather than rely on a browser as the UI for those devices. In addition to providing a richer interface than a browser does on a PDA's larger screen, clients let users download data to read offline. Thus, before boarding a plane, you can download all your messages and read them in flight—an option you don't have with a WAP or HTML browser. In solutions that employ clients instead of a WAP or HTML browser, the authentication and encryption methods the device uses depend on the vendor and on whether the wireless service provider uses a gateway. However, today's PDAs sacrifice the notification feature that most cell phones have, for power and screen size. Unless you direct message notifications to a separate pager or cell phone, you won't know whether new messages are waiting until you launch the browser or client and check your messages.

Wireless capabilities also add significant weight and bulk to most PDAs. Phones provide better portability and might also be less costly because one wireless account can serve both your email and voice needs. Some new models, such as the Sprint PCS touchpoint 3000 and the Ericsson R380 WORLD, provide relatively large screens, software keypads with stylus entry, personal information manager (PIM) functionality, and synchronization with your desktop Microsoft Outlook client. But as phones add functionality, they also tend to become larger.

Even if you opt for a wireless modem—equipped Pocket PC, some wireless email solutions won't let you open attachments—and if you can open them, slow wireless speeds (typically from 9.6Kbps to 19.2Kbps) might make you think twice. One alternative is to forward the attachment to your company's fax server and have the attachment sent to a nearby fax machine. Another option is to run Astata's AstataView Corporate Enterprise Solution (ACES), which can render the document as text and display it on your handset's screen. Onset Technology provides a similar solution called METAmessage Conversion Server (MCS)—Enterprise Edition, which can render the attachment as text on your handset's screen or send it to a local fax machine. Before buying such a product, make sure that it supports your handheld devices.

A Compendium of Email Solutions
Implementing a wireless email solution involves many considerations, including security, cost, ease of use and deployment, scalability, manageability, and features. Unless otherwise specified, all the products I mention in this column can provide access to your Exchange email, Outlook Calendar, and Contacts. However, product-specific features will make some products better suited than others to your environment.

One of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether you'll want access to other enterprise applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). If email access is all you need, consider one of the several middleware products that focus specifically on email access.

In contrast to most wireless products, Research In Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry Enterprise Edition is a complete solution that includes BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, wireless service through the Cingular Wireless or Motient wireless network, and a handheld device with a synchronization cradle and software for your desktop system. BlackBerry is available in four models and two sizes. The larger devices are slightly smaller than a Pocket PC and have a 19-line screen. The smaller units, which are pager-sized, have an 8-line screen. All models provide PDA functionality.

The Lab tested these devices (see Anneliese Walsh, "BlackBerry," March 2001) and found their keyboards to be easier to use than software-based keyboards or character recognition features on Palms and Pocket PCs. Battery life was also superior. RIM handhelds use the vendor's client software rather than a browser.

Unlike most other wireless email products for Exchange, BlackBerry uses push technology, so your messages automatically appear on the handheld's display as soon as they arrive. In addition to providing email access, BlackBerry provides for wireless synchronization of your Outlook calendar with the calendar on the device and lets you initiate, accept, and reject meeting requests. BlackBerry lacks a native ability to handle attachments, but third-party products can provide a solution. RIM says that messages remain Triple DES (3DES) encrypted at all times between the handheld and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server system.

Wireless Knowledge's Workstyle for Microsoft Exchange supports a variety of wireless devices, including cell phones with WAP browsers and Palm and Pocket PC PDAs running HTML or WAP browsers. Although an HTML browser provides a richer UI than WAP does on a PDA's larger screen, the TCP/IP protocol slows performance over wireless networks. Wireless Knowledge also offers Anystyle for Microsoft Exchange, a superset of Workstyle that also supports RIM handhelds that run Wireless Knowledge's client software over Cingular Wireless's network.

With either product, users can access email and email folders within their Inbox; view their calendar; initiate, accept, and reject meeting requests; and access their contacts and the Global Address List (GAL). To provide new-mail notification to WAP-based cell phones, both products send an SMTP message to the wireless service provider, which then forwards a Short Message Service (SMS) message to the phone. Flexible rules let users define which email senders, topics, and importance levels trigger notifications; Pocket PC and Palm users can receive the notifications at a cell phone or pager.

Pocket PC users who use Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer to access their email can read Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel attachments directly; other users must rely on third-party products or services. Users who have cell phones can use canned responses—preprogrammed responses that the user can send by tapping just a few keys—to respond to email messages. Workstyle and Anystyle include 5 predefined responses, but users can modify them and create as many as 15 other customized predefined responses.

For RIM devices that run a Wireless Knowledge client, Anystyle adds wireless calendar synchronization and a ruleset that defines which messages are automatically pushed to the device and which appear only when the user explicitly pulls down messages from the Exchange server. Neither Wireless Knowledge product uses Windows NT LAN Manager (NTLM) authentication or Active Directory (AD), but the vendor plans to add support for both in an upcoming release. Both products also support RSA Security's RSA SecurID authentication to prevent unauthorized access to corporate data should a user lose a handheld device. If you opt for this feature, users who want to access their email must enter a code that the RSA SecurID token generates. Both products also support Win2K Server Network Load Balancing (NLB).

If your mobile users use WAP browser­equipped cell phones or Palm PDAs, UltiVerse Technologies' FreeVerse is a good choice. This product features two software components: UltiWAP, which is a set of Active Server Pages (ASP) scripts that resides on your Microsoft IIS server, and the UltiVerse telephony server software, which resides on another server behind your firewall or at the vendor's Internet Data Center.

The UltiWAP component accesses information on your Exchange server and converts it into Wireless Markup Language (WML) format before sending it to the handheld device. UltiVerse provides telephony features that make responding to email and dealing with attachments easy. For example, instead of typing a long response on your cell phone's touch pad, you can append a voice annotation (as a .wav file) to your email response. You can even use the product's text-to-speech feature to have UltiVerse read your email to you. UltiVerse can also convert your attachments to speech, or it can render them as text and send the text to a nearby fax machine. Notification rules let mobile phone users limit alerts to specific senders or message priorities.

Currently, FreeVerse requires Palm, Pocket PC, and BlackBerry users to have a WAP browser, but an upcoming version will also support HTML browsers. FreeVerse supports NTLM authentication and will work with RSA SecurID authentication tokens and software for additional protection against unauthorized access in case the handheld device is lost or stolen.

Beyond Email
In addition to recognizing the value of wireless email access, many organizations see potential business advantages in wireless access to mission-critical applications such as ERP or CRM. To meet your specific requirements, a client-server enterprise application is likely to need a custom-developed client for use on handheld devices. Several products feature an extensible architecture that, when used with the proper connector, can interface with Exchange and other enterprise applications. The products I mention come with Exchange interfaces, but the vendor, your IT group, or a systems integrator might need to develop connectors for other applications.

In addition to communicating with WAP-based cell phones, Infowave's Wireless Business Engine can communicate with WAP browser­equipped Palm and RIM handhelds and with Pocket PCs that run the vendor's client software, which works with Microsoft Pocket Outlook. The product also lets you use an HTML browser to access Web-enabled back-end applications and your intranet. The recently introduced Open Application Connector for Pocket PCs simplifies the development of Pocket PC­based clients for enterprise client-server applications by isolating the client from the high-latency, low-bandwidth wireless environment.

This product wirelessly synchronizes a Pocket PC calendar to your Outlook calendar, so when a user initiates, accepts, or rejects meeting invitations, both calendars reflect the change. Users can also navigate to their mail folders, Outlook contacts, and the GAL.

The Wireless Business Engine uses NTLM authentication; to secure communications with client-equipped Pocket PCs, the product uses Certicom 163-bit Elliptic Curve and Data Encryption Standard X (DESX) algorithms. To secure communication between the Wireless Business Engine and WAP-equipped phones, Palm handhelds, and RIM handhelds, Infowave uses standard Wireless Transport Layer Security (WTLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption. The product also supports RSA SecurID authentication. Infowave says that compared with solutions that use TCP/IP protocols with clients or HTML browsers, the Wireless Business Engine's use of compression algorithms and of UDP/IP rather than TCP/IP improves performance of the product and of client-equipped Pocket PCs.

The product's notification engine runs on Microsoft Message Queue Server (MSMQ). Because of the limitations of Pocket PC and Palm OS­based PDAs, users need to direct new-mail notifications to their cell phone or pager. However, Infowave makes getting new messages a little easier for Pocket PC users: Users who log on, check new messages, and turn the device off without logging off can subsequently view new messages simply by turning on the device. When users log off or exceed the IT-defined time limit between sessions, they must log on again to check their messages. Pocket PC users can also open Word and Excel attachments; Figure 1 shows how an email message that's sent using the Wireless Business Engine appears on a Pocket PC equipped with Pocket Outlook. Paper-clip icons indicate attachments that still reside on the server. Users can set message-size thresholds to tell the product how much of a message (and its attachments) to automatically download; after reading a message, the user can decide which of the attachments that remain on the server he or she wants to download.

If you use Oracle database products or if your mobile users often travel beyond the limits of most wireless services, check out Oracle9i Application Server (Oracle9iAS) Wireless. This product supports WAP and HTML browser­equipped phones, Palms, Pocket PCs, and RIM handhelds. Outside of their wireless coverage area, users can access their email by dialing in to a voice gateway and having their messages read back to them. (You can contract for the voice gateway through Oracle or purchase it through third parties such as Lucent or Motorola.) Unlike most other products, however, Oracle's solution doesn't let users access their Outlook contacts, tasks, and calendar (Oracle says it will add these capabilities in a later version).

Mobile employees who use cell phones, Palms, or RIM handhelds will appreciate the Oracle product's dynamic rendering of attachments. When these users attempt to read an attachment, utilities built in to Oracle9i or Oracle8i database products convert the document to text and display it on the device's screen. (Even if you don't need the rendering capability, you'll need one of these Oracle database products to maintain user account information.)

BlackBerry users need to launch a WAP browser, then pull mail down from their Exchange server. As with Pocket PCs and Palm handhelds, the only RIM handheld notification option is to use a cell phone; Oracle provides a ruleset to govern how notifications are handled.

Although Microsoft's Mobile Information 2001 Server lacks some of its competitors' refinements, it provides a good foundation for wireless access to enterprise applications, especially for organizations that run Exchange 2000 Server. One of the product's strengths is its tight integration with Win2K and Exchange 2000: You can control user access through account names and passwords stored in AD or—using numeric passwords (which are easy for phone users to enter)—through auxiliary domain account names. The product also includes a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in.

Mobile Information Server includes Outlook Mobile Access, which retrieves requested information from Exchange 2000 and formats it for a handheld device's small screen; the product also includes a similar connector for Exchange 5.5. Intranet Browse, another bundled application, provides wireless access to WAP-enabled applications on your intranet. Microsoft is working with systems integrators and other partners to develop connectors for Microsoft SQL Server and other applications.

Mobile Information Server supports only WAP browser­equipped phones, PDAs, and RIM handhelds, so the product uses SSL and WTLS to handle authentication and encryption services. HTML browser support isn't available, but Microsoft plans to include a Pocket PC client in an update release later this year. Until the update appears, Pocket PC users who want to open Word or Excel attachments need to use a third-party product. Users can access their email and contacts, can navigate to any Outlook subfolder, and can view their calendar and initiate, accept, and decline meeting requests; the update will add wireless synchronization for the calendar, contacts, tasks, and the Inbox.

If you use Exchange 2000, your WAP browser­based phone users will receive new-message notifications through their wireless providers' SMS feature. But if you use Exchange 5.5, you'll need to install Outlook Mobile Manager on users' desktops to provide those notifications, so those desktops must be turned on while users are away. If you choose not to use Outlook Mobile Manager, phone users, like their Palm, Pocket PC, and RIM handheld counterparts, won't get notifications and will need to point their WAP browser to the Mobile Information Server system to check for new mail.

ThinAirApps' ThinAir Server gives Pocket PC, RIM, and Palm OS­based handheld users a choice: They can access their Exchange email by using either an HTML browser or a client application. Pocket PCs use Pocket Outlook, and Palm devices use a proprietary client; a proprietary RIM handheld client should also be available by the time you read this. ThinAirApps also offers a Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME) client for cell phones, although at press time only a few Nextel Communications phones could use it. ThinAir Server also supports phones with WAP browsers.

When you use clients on Palm or RIM handheld devices, Elliptic Curve algorithms typically provide authentication and encryption; the Pocket PC's Pocket Outlook uses SSL for authentication and encryption. ThinAir Server users can access their mail and mail folders, calendar, and contacts and can initiate, accept, and reject meeting requests. Users can also define the senders, message priorities, and message subjects that trigger a notification. ThinAirApps' client for RIM handhelds periodically polls ThinAir Server to retrieve new messages; the resulting functionality looks like push technology.

Application interfaces are available for DB2, SQL Server 2000, SQL Server 7.0, and Oracle databases. ThinAirApps also offers an HTML interface software development kit (SDK), which lets you create connectors to Web-enabled enterprise applications. ThinAir Server runs on Win2K or NT and supports load balancing and NTLM authentication. When used with Win2K, ThinAir Server authenticates users with account names and passwords stored in AD.

Like most wireless application platforms, Fenestrae Mobile Data Server (MDS) uses a modular architecture to support a variety of handset types and enterprise applications. This architecture includes a WAP gateway, so you can easily move the WTLS-to-SSL protocol translation process behind your firewall without having to acquire a WAP gateway from a third party. Fenestrae offers interfaces for SQL- and ODBC-compliant databases, and an XML interface provides access to the corporate intranet and to Web-based enterprise applications.

In addition to supporting WAP browser­equipped phones, MDS lets Palm and Pocket PC users use HTML or WAP browsers to access Exchange 2000­ or Exchange 5.5­based email, contacts, tasks, and appointments. At press time, MDS didn't yet support RIM handhelds, but it should by the time you read this.

Like other products, MDS uses your wireless service provider's SMS capability to activate a cell phone's paging feature when new messages arrive. However, if your users want to create rules to define which new messages generate notifications, you'll also need Fenestrae's Faxination unified messaging product. Because MDS doesn't support opening email attachments, you might also want to have the optional Faxination fax-server capability, which lets users forward email attachments to a nearby fax machine.

Responding to messages from a cell phone's keypad can be a pain, and unlike some other products, MDS doesn't include a canned-response capability out of the box. However, the product's Visual Basic (VB) scripting capability lets you create canned responses from which mobile users can choose.

MDS supports NTLM authentication and integrates with AD if you're running Win2K. To let cell phone users easily enter passwords, IT managers can associate numeric passwords with wireless users' domain accounts. MDS also interacts with RSA SecurID server software and authentication tokens to provide additional protection against unauthorized access should the handheld device be lost or stolen.

Future Developments
Hardware vendors recognize the need for one device that provides the benefits of a cell phone and a PDA. Kyocera's QCP 6035 and Samsung Electronics' SPH-I300 smartphones, both of which merge a Palm PDA and a phone, are just two of many introductions we'll see this year. Although Microsoft, Palm, Compaq, and Hewlett-Packard (HP) wouldn't comment on their new-product plans, watch for new PDA models that provide notification and always-on functionality. Microsoft is working with cell-phone vendors on a smartphone that integrates some of the features of a Pocket PC; that product should be available by early 2002.

This fall, Sprint PCS and Verizon Communications will begin rolling out third-generation (3G) wireless network technology with speeds as high as 144Kbps, and Cingular Wireless (among others) will introduce 56Kbps wireless service (aka 2.5-generation technology). However, you'll need new handsets to benefit from the faster networks, and prices for phones and services are likely to be high. The new services will probably debut in limited markets and might take a few years to become available nationally. In my view, the convenience that specific handsets and wireless middleware products provide is more important than network speed; however, the faster networks will be crucial for access to enterprise applications, such as CRM.

The 3G handsets will be compatible with current wireless technology, so you might want to consider a 3G-compatible model even if you won't be using 3G services this year. Most wireless middleware products are wireless protocol independent, and those that aren't will offer upgrades soon after 3G services become available. You should discuss 3G support with prospective vendors before buying. But because wireless providers haven't announced which markets will get the new services first and the reliability of those new networks is unknown, I wouldn't delay an investment while waiting for them to roll out.


Contact the Vendors
ANYSTYLE FOR MICROSOFT EXCHANGE
Wireless Knowledge * 858-882-6400 or
800-656-6400
http://www.wirelessknowledge.com

BLACKBERRY ENTERPRISE EDITION
Research In Motion * 519-888-7465
http://www.rim.net

FENESTRAE MOBILE DATA SERVER
Fenestrae * 770-622-5445
http://www.fenestrae.com

FREEVERSE
UltiVerse Technologies * 781-890-2770
http://www.ultiverse.com

MOBILE INFORMATION 2001 SERVER
Microsoft * 425-882-8080 or 800-426-9400
http://www.microsoft.com/miserver

ORACLE 9iAPPLICATION SERVER WIRELESS
Oracle * 650-506-7000 or 800-633-0586
http://www.oracle.com

THINAIR SERVER
ThinAirApps * 212-343-5000 or 888-609-8446
http://www.thinairapps.com

WIRELESS BUSINESS ENGINE
Infowave Software * 800-463-6928
http://www.infowave.com

WORKSTYLE FOR MICROSOFT EXCHANGE
Wireless Knowledge * 858-882-6400 or
800-656-6400
http://www.wirelessknowledge.com