Tools Of The Trade: The Fasthosts mobile email service

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The Independent Online

Research In Motion, the company behind the BlackBerry, has blazed a trail in mobile email. But a few days ago it was nearly taken off air due to a patent-infringement lawsuit in the US, and the number of rivals, from Microsoft to the mobile phone firms, is growing.

Companies that use the latest version of Microsoft's Exchange server can "push" email out to a compatible, Windows Mobile handheld, bypassing the additional mobile email servers needed to run BlackBerry devices.

But for companies that would rather not run their own email systems - let alone manage mobile devices - the choices are more limited.

That's why the solution offered by web-hosting firm Fasthosts makes for an interesting halfway house between a completely unmanaged service and subscribing to an end-to-end email system via a mobile operator.

Fasthosts' service is designed to work with its hosted version of Microsoft Exchange. As such, it should appeal to the same small firms that prefer to outsource their email systems to a service provider for a fee, rather than paying for hardware, bandwidth and software licences.

As well as a hosted exchange mailbox, the service includes a compatible mobile handset or PDA, and software from US provider Good Technologies. Rather than rely on Microsoft's push email technology alone, Fasthosts uses Goodlink software to manage the connections. This has a number of advantages, not least support for a wider range of PDAs.

Set-up is straightforward: it takes around 10 minutes to configure a Windows Mobile handheld with an existing Fasthosts email account. Once this is done, the software synchronises email, contacts, tasks and calendar information over the mobile network.

The service will work with any network that supports GPRS or 3G data; it is also possible to use the software over a wireless LAN link on a WiFi-equipped handheld. This will cut data charges and boost download speeds.

One disadvantage is that it will only work with mailboxes hosted on Fasthosts' exchange servers, whereas BlackBerry's internet service can collect mail from any web provider. Another is potentially higher charges as Fasthosts does not offer the all-inclusive data plans available for BlackBerry. That, though, is a minor drawback given the low cost.

RATING: 4 out of 5

PROS: easy set-up, flexible, low cost.

CONS: limited to Fasthosts mail servers; no unlimited-use data plans.

COST: from £4.99 plus VAT a month for mobile email; mailbox and mobile email, £9.99 a month.