The nation's biggest telco Telstra is considering dumping the email, blogging, photos and online storage platforms used by customers of its BigPond internet service provider (ISP) division and migrating customers to Microsoft's Windows Live platform.
Telstra spokesperson Craig Middleton this morning said the company had been talking to customers for some time about how they would like the BigPond and Telstra email platform to evolve to better suit their needs. Like many ISPs, Telstra runs much of its own email platform for customers in-house (including webmail), although it is unclear exactly which technical platform it currently uses.
"One of the options we're considering is to integrate our email services with Microsoft's Windows Live Suite platform to offer new applications and services to our customers," Middleton said. The executive stipulated the idea was "only a proposal" at the moment, with several options for the future of the email platform being considered, although he couldn't say what other paths Telstra was looking at.
If the project is approved, it could have some fairly substantial implications for BigPond consumers, and even small business owners who use Telstra's email.
It appears as if the proposal as it currently stands would see customers with email accounts in the BigPond.com and BigPond.net.au domains migrated to the Windows Live platform, which Microsoft hosts outside of Australia. Microsoft's nearest datacentres are in Singapore.
Such an arrangement could even extend to some customers — for example, small businesses — using the Telstra.com domain. However, all customers would maintain their email addresses.
According to sources, Telstra would retain control of the systems which manage the usernames of its customers, as well as account and password management functions. However, it would shut down the current in-house systems which provide customers with online photo and file storage, blogging and even anti-spam functions under the BigPond.com banner, in favour of migrating to the equivalent Windows Live options.
Windows Live extends beyond just email; it's a suite of online offerings providing web, POP and SMTP access to users' email, online storage and file synchronisation through the SkyDrive and Mesh products, hosted blogging through WordPress.com, calendaring, photo gallery and instant messaging functionality and even contact, calendar and task synchronisation through Microsoft ActiveSync.
A single sign-on ability would allow customers to sign in once to their Telstra account to gain access to the Windows Live services.
The Windows Live platform also features strong integration with Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. Microsoft recently launched the first wave of handsets based on the new platform to hit Australia, partnering strongly in-country with Telstra to do so.
However, Telstra would not shut down its own email platform entirely if the proposal went ahead.
In fact, according to sources, the telco would need to maintain a duplicate bare-bones version of its platform — complete with all customer emails going in and out — to allow it to meet law enforcement requests for email interception from Australian authorities.
The news comes as dozens of large Australian organisations are currently migrating from in-house email platforms to hosted systems provided by the likes of Microsoft and Google (through Gmail). However, so far most of the organisations to have taken the shift have been large education institutions such as universities and state education departments.
There is one other example of a major Australian internet service provider which has migrated its email platform to a hosted system; in early October, iiNet announced a deal with VMware which would see the company's Zimbra Collaboration Suite provided to customers, effectively meaning a million email accounts would be migrated into the cloud.
The migration began last month and is slated to be completed by January 2011.
However, Telstra has many more email accounts than iiNet. The total number of the telco's inboxes is not known, but the company is known to have 2.2 million DSL subscribers alone, and many more customers using its HFC and mobile networks. Customers who sign up to its mobile broadband service often do sign up for a BigPond.com email account, due to the integration with Telstra's billing systems.