Microsoft, Carriers Take on RIM

Nextel and Visto ink a deal to compete with RIM, and Microsoft gets ready to launch the next version of its mobile OS.

Research In Motion Ltd. for several years has had the corporate mobile e-mail market virtually all to itself. But the honeymoon is about to end as wireless carriers prepare to ink new deals with RIM competitors and Microsoft Corp. readies its next mobile operating system with push e-mail capabilities.

Push e-mail provider Visto Inc., of Redwood City, Calif., this month will team with Nextel Communications Inc. to offer corporations a behind-the-firewall push e-mail access service for devices that compete with RIMs BlackBerry, according to sources familiar with the companys plans.

This comes on the heels of two other carrier partnerships that Visto announced this month with Vodafone Group plc., based in Newbury, England, and Rogers Communications Inc., in Toronto.

Most major U.S. wireless carriers offer RIMs BlackBerry devices and e-mail service, and the carriers pay service and support fees to RIM. Third-party platforms, such as Vistos, allow carriers to grab a bigger piece of the profit and support a wider choice of devices.

Sprint Corp. and Cingular Wireless already offer white-label mobile e-mail services from Seven Networks Inc., in Redwood City, Calif., which recently acquired its Finnish competitor Smartner Information Systems Ltd.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is poised to launch this month the next version of its mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 2005, which will incorporate push e-mail capabilities with Microsoft Exchange Server.

"They are definitely going to get a fair share of enterprise users by building it into the OS. In certain situations, it would be cost-effective to go with the Microsoft solution," said Kitty Weldon, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc., of Sterling, Va.

But Microsoft may run into problems dislodging RIM from its entrenched position in the enterprise.

"We wont wait. When they get it, they get it. Our philosophy is that when we get it right and get the right technology to solve our business needs, were going to go after it, not wait for the next technology," said Doug Brady, CIO of Plante & Moran PLLC, a financial services company in Southfield, Mich., that uses BlackBerrys.

Enterprise customers often need a mix of devices throughout the corporation because users have different needs and preferences for devices and carriers.

To address this need, RIM licenses its software through the BlackBerry Connect and BlackBerry Built-In programs. Microsoft licenses its Exchange Server ActiveSync protocol to such rivals as handset maker PalmOne Inc. and mobile operating system provider Symbian Ltd.


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