We’ve come to rely on computers, cellular phones, email, and the Internet for communicating and sharing realtime information, but only email has become mission critical. Mobile workers who are always on the road making sales calls or interfacing with clients at a customer site will tell you how imperative it is to constantly monitor and respond immediately to email to stay ahead of the competition.

The research group ResearchPortal.com estimates that 72 percent of mobile workers with laptops frequently use their computers for email. However, sending and receiving email from a laptop is time consuming and inconvenient because you have to locate a phone connection for your modem, boot your laptop, set up the appropriate area code and phone number for your ISP, and connect to the corporate server. Most users in this situation tend to check their email only at the end of the day when they return to the office or hotel room. Any email messages that these users send would likely not be read until the following day.

I personally like to maintain contact with my email anytime, anywhere, and instantly. As an affirmation, I own a Motorola Timex BeepwearPro wristwatch that synchronizes with Outlook contacts, receives pages, and even captures email messages. I also have a Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC with a PCMCIA expansion pack that houses a Sierra Aircard 300 wireless modem for email and Web connectivity up to 19.2Kbps. My 2.7-pound, 500Mhz Sony VAIO PCG-SR5K can also use the Sierra wireless modem to receive email. Finally, I carry a Samsung 8500 voice-activated Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-enabled phone that can access a POP server via a microbrowser.

Although my wristwatch pager is great for alerting me to newly received email, it’s only a one-way device (i.e., I can receive, but not send, email), requires a different email address than my Exchange email address, and only receives email messages up to 20 characters long. My "naked" iPAQ is smooth, sleek, and light, but when I slip on the PCMCIA expansion pack and insert the wireless modem, the device measures 5.5 inches by 3.5 inches and weighs more than 3 pounds! Additionally, wireless connectivity with the wireless modem is relatively slow. Although Metricom Ricochet has come out with a 128Kbps PCMCIA modem, service coverage is currently limited to 11 cities (the company plans to provide coverage in 46 additional cities in the near future). Although my Sony VAIO is one of the lightest laptops available on the market, it’s heavy compared to most of the other devices I’ve mentioned, time-consuming to boot up, and has an effectual battery life of only 2 hours. Finally, my WAP-enabled phone has a small, hard-to-read display, and entering information, for which I must press the numeric keypad multiple times to access a single letter, is cumbersome.

According to Gartner, 40 percent of mobile workers will be compelled to carry technologies that offer immediate interactive email capabilities by the year 2004. Although the latest generation of wireless devices makes it easier than ever to stay connected to email, these devices aren’t perfect. Fortunately, the BlackBerry wireless handheld device comes close.

The BlackBerry
The Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry devices weigh only 5 ounces and encompass all the best features of the devices I currently use. It provides effortless mobile access to an existing corporate Exchange mail server, which lets me remain productive even when I’m away from my desk. For a monthly service fee, I have wireless and immediate access to my Exchange mail, contacts, calendar, and task list. To synchronize the BlackBerry RIM for these applications, I simply place the RIM in its cradle and the information automatically updates with my PC. For an additional fee, users can subscribe to text-based Web access using a browser designed specifically for the BlackBerry.

The BlackBerry device has a tiny, yet well-designed, QWERTY keyboard. I’ve been able to ramp up to almost 38 words per minute using thumb-typing and click-and-roll actions with the trackwheel to navigate through the user interface (UI). There are two BlackBerry models. The RIM 850/950, which has 4MB of memory, runs on one AA battery and measures 2.5" × 3.5" × 0.93" (LxWxD). The RIM 857/957, which has 5MB of memory, includes an internal rechargeable Lithium battery, and measures 4.6" × 3.1" × 0.70" (LxWxD). Both devices have an Intel 386 processor and an embedded wireless modem. The battery has an average life of 5 days, compared to only 2 hours for a laptop computer, and 5 hours for an iPAQ.

The difference between the 800 series versus the 900 series is the network frequency on which they run. The 800 series runs on an 800Mhz frequency supplied by Motient Ardis, while the 900 series runs on a 900Mhz radio frequency provided by Mobitex Cingular. In more congested areas, such as New York and Dallas, RIM recommends the 800 series. However, the 900 series will work in these locations as well. Check with RIM to determine which series is the best to purchase for your area. I have found RIM’s sales and technical support both knowledgeable and helpful.

Instant email. BlackBerry wireless access to your Exchange Outlook email requires several components, including redirector software, wireless service, and a BlackBerry device. Installing the redirector software on the desktop is straightforward using the installation wizard. The redirector software must always be running on the desktop so that it can forward messages to your BlackBerry device. Like Microsoft Outlook, the redirector software uses the Messaging API (MAPI) to link to your email account. BlackBerry uses push technology to immediately notify you of new messages, as opposed to requiring that you periodically connect to an Exchange server to pull the information to you. One of the best advantages of using the BlackBerry solution is that you can use your existing Exchange email address without having to establish a second mailbox where you would have to set up filters to forward email back to your Exchange address. The desktop software also lets you define email synchronization rules, manage folders, filter email, perform backups, and load applications.

BlackBerry’s redirector architecture uses Exchange Server’s SMTP connection to transport data. Once your BlackBerry is properly configured, your desktop acts as the communication hub between your BlackBerry and your corporate email. When email arrives on your corporate Exchange server, the desktop redirector software retrieves a copy of the message, encrypts the message, and routes it over the wireless data network to your BlackBerry device. The BlackBerry decrypts the message and alerts you to the new message using tone, vibration, or onscreen notification. Email originating from a BlackBerry handheld transmits securely to your desktop, which then delivers the email using the BlackBerry redirector. RIM also has a Blackberry Enterprise Server solution that runs as a service and monitors many users over one connection to the Microsoft Exchange Server.

Wireless service. BlackBerry uses Mobitex Cingular Interactive Intelligent Wireless Network and Motient Ardis in the United States, covering more than 93 percent of the urban business population. The wireless data network handles in-bound and out-bound data at speeds of approximately 8Kbps, making it best suited for text-based information.

BlackBerry devices communicate using radio frequency. If the device is out of coverage, it has store-and-forward capabilities so that it can forward your message once you reenter the wireless service area. Using each unit’s Personal Identification Number (PIN), you can also perform peer-to-peer messaging between multiple BlackBerry devices so that if an Exchange server goes down, you can send messages directly from one handheld to another, completely bypassing the server.

Web capabilities. As I mentioned earlier, you can browse the Web on a BlackBerry device using a WAP-compliant microbrowser. GoAmerica offers Go.Web software that lets you navigate through Web content in an optimized fashion and retrieve stock quotes, news, travel, sports, and weather updates. My company, InterKnowlogy, developed a WAP site that users can access using a BlackBerry device.

Summary
Not only can you send and receive email instantaneously with the BlackBerry RIM, you can also access your Outlook calendar and vital information using the device’s WAP-enabled Web browser. Members of the mobile workforce can only benefit from greater communication abilities, and the BlackBerry’s size and capabilities give you a convenient and practical method for accessing your Exchange Outlook mail with minimal configuration.