By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Wireless messaging carrier Motient plans by the end of November to expand its eLink wireless e-mail service to Palm devices with the launch of the MobileModem, a radiomodem that attaches to the Palm V and Vx series PDAs to deliver Blackberry-like access to a user's POP3/IMAP4 e-mail.
Motient will further expand the service by the end of the year or early next year to the new Palm M500 and M505 PDAs, then offer service to PocketPC devices later in 2002, probably in midyear, said Peter Belman, VP of marketing and product management.
"This is the first time Palm users will enjoy a Blackberry-like experience," Belman said. Blackberry service offered through the Motient and Cingular networks automatically redirects the body of e-mail from a user's Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino e-mail/groupware platforms to keyboard-equipped handheld devices made by Research In Motion (RIM), he explained. A related Motient service, eLink, redirects the body of a user's POP3 or IMAP4 ISP e-mail to the RIM handhelds.
For Palm users, competing services from wireless application service providers (ASPs) OmniSky, GoAmerica and Yada Yada don't automatically redirect e-mail messages to a subscriber, Belman noted.
As GoAmerica explained its service, users can set up their handheld to automatically query a GoAmerica server, which regularly pulls and stores a user's POP3/IMAP4 e-mail. When queried, the GoAmerica server will push alerts or e-mail headers to the handheld. The subscriber can then actively download selected e-mails.
"We offer the only always-on e-mail service for Palms," Belman said.
Motient's service not only works with POP3/IMAP4 ISP e-mail accounts but also with corporate e-mail servers that use a POP3 or IMAP4 interface in conjunction with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell Groupware corporate-network platforms.
For enterprise employees, Motient offers a solution that IT departments can install to enable e-mail redirection enterprise-wide. Motient also offers a solution for individual PC users, who can load software on their PC's hard drive to regularly redirect e-mail to the MobileModem.
Motient's $279-suggested Mobile Modem will be bundled with $49.95/month unlimited-messaging service. Through the end of the year, Motient will sell the device at an introductory price of $179, with a 12-month service contract, direct to businesses and to end users through its direct sales force and Web site.
The company also will sell the sled-like device through resellers, whose distribution could include retail channels. Motient, for example, already markets its eLink services through such resellers as carriers SkyTel and Metrocall, whose distribution channels include brick & mortar and online retailers.
The 5 x 3.1 x 0.47-inch MobileModem, operating on Motient's nationwide network, weighs 4.8 ounces and features a heavy-duty 1300m lithium ion battery whose charge lasts as long as a Palm battery's charge, or five days with heavy use, Belman said. Its stubby, fixed-mast antenna is more durable and delivers better RF reception than the pull-out antennas used by other wireless e-mail services, he said.
Other features include vibrating alert, a SmartSYnc cable to simultaneously recharge the Palm and MobileModem while providing desktop synchronization.
Belman said Motient's network is superior to other dedicated wireless-data networks because Motient's footprint reaches 220 million people, based on residential addresses, while the CDPD (cellular digital packet data) network reaches only 140 million people. The Cingular network reaches 170 million.
One reason wireless data services are growing more slowly than expected is limited CDPD-network coverage. "Even in well-developed areas, CDPD is spotty, and huge areas of the country haven't been built out," he said.
He also touted Motient's network over wireless-voice networks that offer e-mail redirection services to Palm-based smart phones or to microbrowser-equipped phones. Not only do the current solutions require users to actively query a server to get the full text of their e-mails, but Motient's in-building penetration is also better, he said.
Motient's network was engineered from the ground up to offer superior in-building penetration, Belman said. A Motient-network device "talks to multiple towers simultaneously versus locking onto a single tower, like cellular networks," he explained. As a result, a Motient device will receive messages from whichever tower is delivering the strongest signal at the time.
Belman also pointed out that wireless phones other than Palm-based phones lack a simple method for inputting text.
Motient earlier this year completed an upgrade of its entire network to 19.2kbps, matching CDPD rates.
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