Microsoft digs deeper into mobile messaging

Software giant garners support from service providers and device makers, acquires mobile-search company.

BARCELONA--Microsoft has intensified its play for the direct push e-mail and mobile markets this week, unveiling new distribution agreements and its acquisition of search technology provider MotionBridge.

Eight months after Microsoft first released its Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP), several service providers and device makers have committed their support for the software module.

Embedded in Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system and released with Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2, the MSFP enables enterprises to push e-mail messages to mobile devices that run on the Microsoft mobile platform. Companies do not need to purchase any additional middleware because the software component runs directly off the server.

Mobile operators Cinugular Wireless, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone will be offering their Windows Mobile customers free MSFP upgrades, said Jason Lim, regional director of mobile and embedded, Microsoft Asia-Pacific and Japan.

Hardware makers Hewlett-Packard (HP), Asus and Fujitsu Siemens will also be shipping new Windows Mobile-based devices, which will ship with the direct push component, Lim told ZDNet Asia. These include the HP iPaq hw6900, Asus's 3G-enabled P305 smartphone, the Fujitsu Siemens FS Pocket Loox and the Gigabyte Communications g-Smart which is offered by Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom.

Monday's announcements, however, are somewhat late as Microsoft had initially expected to roll out Windows Mobile devices with the MSFP in the third quarter of 2005.

According to Lim, the operators have used the time to test and run pilot trials.

He added that SingTel in Singapore and Advanced Info Service (AIS) in Thailand will be making similar announcements within the next three months. Further agreements with service providers across the Asia-Pacific region are currently under discussion, and will be made public as and when these are finalized.

Only 10 million people today retrieve their office e-mail via their mobile phones, despite the fact that there are 1 billion mobile phones and 400 million Outlook e-mail users worldwide.

Citing figures from research company IDC, Lim noted that 63.1 percent of the world's mobile worker population are based in the Asia-Pacific region.

"I think push e-mail is taking a while to pick up because there [has been] a lack of devices that support the technology," he said. "That's why today's announcement is so important."

He added that it is just as crucial to offer a solution that is cost-effective, noting that mobile messaging "should be for everyone in the company" and not just an exclusive group of employees.

The direct push mail technology will also be available in Microsoft's Small Business Server in the next couple of months, he said.

Made popular by Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices, mobile messaging and e-mail has become a hotly sought-after market where new players such as Microsoft and Nokia, have voiced their plans to grab a piece of the pie.

The search for mobility
In another announcement unveiled Monday at 3GSM World Congress, Microsoft said it has acquired MotionBridge, a developer of search technology designed for mobile Internet and operators. The companies did not reveal any financial details.

According to Microsoft, the search tool provides mobile users with "clustered results" and links to downloadable content from multiple providers. The software giant hopes the acquisition will help the company to "move forward on mobile search solutions for Windows Live", enabling handset owners to quickly find relevant search results on the Internet.

Microsoft has also teamed up with Texas Instruments to build a low-cost chipset in a bid to bring down the material cost of mobile devices.

Built on a single core architecture, the chipset will be streamlined for phones designed to offer specific features such as a music phone or games phone, Lim explained. Most mobile devices today are built on dual-core chipsets which add to the cost of the handset, he added.

Microsoft expects devices with the new low-cost chipset to be available within a year.

Eileen Yu of ZDNet Asia reported from the 3GSM World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.