Vodafone offers push e-mail service across Europe

Vodafone Group PLC formally launched its own version of a wireless "push" e-mail service on Thursday, with plans to roll it out across Europe by the end of the year.

Though the Newbury, England, company said that the service will complement the offerings it already has in partnership with Research In Motion Ltd. on its BlackBerry wireless device, the move is also a direct competitive challenge to the market-dominant BlackBerry.

"We see it as increasing the market for push as whole," said Vodafone spokesman Jon Earl. "BlackBerry is very popular with our customers, but now we have an alternative option for those who, for whatever reason, want to use another device. It is about choice."

In the past, users have had to check their mailbox periodically and then "pull" new mail from the server to their handset. In a "push" e-mail service, the server notifies the handset automatically as soon as new mail is available, and then pushes the message out to the handset. Due in part to its ease of use, Vodafone hopes push e-mail will rival the popularity of voice calls and SMS (Short Message Service) and in time become the sort of cash cows those services have proven to be.

Vodafone Spain launched the service on Thursday and additional European countries, including the U.K., will be offered push e-mail by the end of 2005, Earl said. He declined to give a time line for specific launch dates.

Pricing for the e-mail service in Spain ranges from €15 (US$19.64) per month for 8 MB of data, up to €35 per month for unlimited access and free installation on a corporate server, Earl said.

Vodafone has been offering the service on a trial basis in Germany, Italy and Greece, as well as through French mobile operator Société Francaise du Radiotéléphone SA and Finnish Elisa Communications Corp.

In the U.S., Vodafone's presence is limited to its 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless Inc., a joint venture with Verizon Communications Inc. Verizon Wireless offers push e-mail service over BlackBerry, as well as four other handsets, and has said it also plans to expand its reach.

The Vodafone push e-mail service supports both Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange server and IBM Corp.'s Lotus Domino systems, as well as POP3 (Post Office Protocol) ISP (Internet service provider) e-mail accounts.

Customers will be able to download e-mail attachments in popular enterprise formats, including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe PDF, Vodafone said.

As Vodafone introduces its push e-mail service throughout Europe, it will offer support for the Vodafone v1620, Motorola Inc.'s MPx220, Nokia Corp.'s 6630 and the P910i from Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB. Additional devices that support push e-mail functionality will also be introduced this year, the company said.

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