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Vodafone offers MS Outlook for mobile users

Microsoft admits that, as with the Internet, the company has been a little slow to grasp the potential of the mobile sector

Vodafone and Microsoft announced a partnership on Monday that will give corporate users real-time access to office applications such as Outlook through their mobile devices.

Aimed at the enterprise space, it will give mobile workers up-to-date access to corporate email, calendar and contacts information. Outlook will be the first application supported by Vodafone's new OfficeLive service, with others expected shortly.

OfficeLive will run on the newly-released Microsoft Mobile Information 2001 server (MMIS). Speaking at the launch event in London on Monday a senior Microsoft executive admitted that, as with the Net boom, the company was slightly late to make moves into the mobile sector.

"Around five years ago when the Internet boom took off, Microsoft was left behind other companies. Again, in the area of mobility, we were a little slow at the beginning," he said, adding that products such as MMIS were crucial to Microsoft's .Net strategy.

Other companies have been offering similar services for some time now. Back in February, application service provider (ASP) NetStore launched a service called MAX2000 that lets users of its hosted Microsoft Exchange service access their email and calendar from a WAP phone. Other companies such as Aspective provide similar access for users of Lotus Notes.

At Monday's demonstration, Vodafone showed how an OfficeLive user could be alerted by SMS when they received an email from a certain person. They could then access Outlook to read the email and reply if needed. Users must have a WAP-enabled handset or PDA, such as Ericsson's R380 mobile phone or the Trium Mondo.

According to Vodafone, OfficeLive is a big improvement on mobile synchronisation services. "Ntl has already been testing OfficeLive, giving field agents real-time access to their emails. It found that it was saving 3,200 man hours per week across the company, which was the equivalent of each mobile user working an extra month per year," said Amit Pau, managing director of Vodafone Multimedia.

Pau claimed that feedback from early customers show that enterprises can expect to make back the cost of installing OfficeLive within one year. He was reluctant to discuss how much companies would be charged for the service, but Vodafone eventually disclosed that there would be a monthly fee per user of around £5 per month, plus a usage fee based on airtime, or on data volume if GPRS phones were used.

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