Microsoft pushes ahead with mobile e-mail effort

Company says market opportunity for push e-mail in mobile handhelds is still "huge."

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
Microsoft said Sunday that its long-awaited push e-mail capability for mobile devices is finally headed into the market.

Although Microsoft is offering push e-mail abilities later than some mobile specialists, such as Research In Motion and Good Technology, the company says the numbers are still on its side. Although there are a billion mobile phones and 400 million Outlook e-mail users worldwide, only about 10 million people are getting their corporate e-mail delivered to their phones.

"We look at the universe out there and we know there is just a huge, huge opportunity yet to be met," Microsoft Vice President Suzan DelBene said in a telephone interview on Friday.

Push e-mail gets forwarded to a device as it comes in on the server, as opposed to pull e-mail, in which a user has to manually retrieve e-mail or get it at a certain time.

Microsoft has been promising push e-mail for some time, but it has taken awhile to get all the pieces in place. The technology was made possible by combining devices running Windows Mobile 5 with servers using Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2. The final piece, a messaging and security service pack, was shipped last year, but had yet to show up on devices in the market.

The software maker said that a number of carriers, including Cingular Wireless, Orange, Sprint, T-Mobile and Vodafone, are offering free upgrades for customers that will let them get the "Direct Push" e-mail abilities as well as new security features.

In addition, Microsoft said several new devices will contain the necessary software for push e-mail, including Hewlett-Packard's iPaq hw6900 Mobile Messenger, the Fujitsu Siemens FS Pocket Loox and the Gigabyte g-Smart, which will be offered by Chungwa Telecom in Taiwan. HTC also said it will have a number of new devices available globally to T-Mobile and other operators beginning in the second quarter of this year.

HP had inadvertently leaked details about the hw6900 series iPaqs, which combine a mobile phone with a personal digital assistant, on at least . The new iPaqs can access the Internet over an EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) cellular network or through its built-in Wi-Fi chip, and contain a chip and software for navigating via the Global Positioning System. They will be available in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa starting this spring and will make their way to North America over the summer.

Microsoft is making the push e-mail announcement at the start of the 3GSM World Congress, a cell phone trade show that is taking place in Barcelona. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is slated to deliver a keynote speech there on Tuesday.

Window Mobile on TI chipset
Separately, Microsoft is announcing a deal at the show that will allow its Windows Mobile operating system to run on phones using a single-core Texas Instruments chipset.

"Most of our phones today run on dual-core chipsets that tend to be more expensive," said DelBene, who is VP of marketing for Microsoft's mobile and embedded device unit. Windows Mobile-based smart phones have typically used ARM-based chips from a variety of chipmakers.

Mobile phone makers Amoi Electronics, HTC and Sagem Communication all said they planned to develop Windows-based devices using TI's chips. Phones using Microsoft's OS and TI's chips are expected to ship within 12 months, Microsoft said.

Although Microsoft is seeing most of its business from companies that are just starting to explore the idea of corporate data on the phone, DelBene said there has been some interest from companies concerned about a possible BlackBerry shutdown.

"People have been aware of the issues out there and are asking questions," she said. On Thursday, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion offered more details on its planned software workaround should its current service be ordered shut by the courts over a patent dispute with NTP.

CNET's Tom Krazit contributed to this report.


Correction: Because of incorrect information provided by Microsoft, this story incorrectly listed three other carriers as offering free upgrades.
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