Nokia E-Mail Platform Takes on BlackBerry

Nokia Corp. this week will launch a wireless e-mail access platform that could provide the first real challenge to Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server. The Nokia Business Center is a behind-the-firewall software platform that lets customers read and delete corporate e-mail on their wireless devices.

The main difference between it and RIM’s platform is that Nokia is not charging a client license for basic e-mail access. Nokia officials said the company is targeting customers that want to deploy wireless e-mail to employees “beyond the corner office.” Many BlackBerry deployments go beyond that already, but licensing costs are a common complaint.

“The price is kind of annoying,” said Jim Whalen, CIO of Boston Properties Inc., in Boston, which deployed BlackBerry devices to 120 employees nationwide in the past few months. “Our recent decision to go with BlackBerrys was based on reliability. We’re going to leave our options open coming into 2006.” A “professional version” of Nokia’s client software—which adds the ability to sort views, full attachment support and access to any employee’s contact information from the company’s corporate directory—will cost $70 per client. Eventual plans call for support for other corporate applications, officials said.

The server software, which supports about 400 active clients per server, costs about $2,200.

The Business Center also differs from RIM’s BES in that it does not send corporate data through a NOC (network operating center) the way BES does.

“We’re seeing a demand from customers who want complete control,” said Dave Grannan, general manager of Nokia’s e-mail solutions group, in Burlington, Mass. “We’ve had customers who have come to us requesting behind-the-firewall without a third-party NOC.”

This is not Nokia’s first attempt at marketing a mobile e-mail server. Last year, it launched Nokia One Business Server, which also provides wireless access to e-mail. But Nokia officials say Nokia One was a Web-based solution that required customers to have Web browser access on their phones, whereas the Business Center works more like push e-mail, although not exactly like it.

As Nokia officials explained it, a client establishes a GPRS session, the GPRS network assigns a dynamic IP address and then the client transmits the address to the server. If the client loses the connection, it refreshes the IP address when the connection is re-established, and then the client transmits the new address back to the server.

Initially the software will support mobile e-mail on a handful of Nokia’s high-end phones: the Nokia 9300 smart phone and Nokia 9500 Communicator, as well as the 6630, 6680, 6681 and 6682 phones. In addition, initially it will support only Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange.

Next year, the company will add support for several other Nokia phones as well as support for IBM’s Lotus Notes, Novell Inc.’s GroupWise and POP (Post Office Protocol) e-mail accounts, Grannan said. Because the software is Java-based, it can run on any Java-capable phone if Nokia certifies the device, Grannan said.

The Business Center will be available in the United States next month from operators and VARs. It is in trials with three carriers in the United States, officials said, declining to say which ones.


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