Mobile Email Standards Bubble Up

Even as the enterprise mobile email industry continues to embroil itself in patent disputes, work is progressing at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) to create universal open standards for interoperable mobile messaging services that will work across devices, carriers, and operating systems.

That work has taken a significant step forward in the last few weeks with the publication of several new mobile messaging protocols by the IETF working group for "LEMONADE" -- which stands for "License to Enhanced Mobile Oriented And Diverse Endpoints."

LEMONADE, according to working-group co-chair Eric Burger, the chief technology officer for next-gen communications at Cantata, works on extending the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) to the mobile environment. "Our work is basically incremental extensions to the existing Inernet email protocol to make it friendly for mobile wireless email and unified messaging," Burger explains. [Ed. note: Burger and lemonade. Mmmmmm...]

Since the Open Mobile Alliance, an industry group with more than 400 member companies, was formed in June 2002, it has worked with the Lemonade group to develop requirements and an architecture for open mobile standards; the IETF group then develops the underlying protocols to fulfill those requirements.

"We're a data organization," says OMA spokesperson Stephen Jones, "so anything data-driven for enterprises is going to come under our scope. We're focusing on interoperability between devices, networks, and geographies, so that what works in one environment is going to work in all the others."

The work of the two interoperability groups is in sharp contrast to the existing enterprise mobile email market, which is dominated by the proprietary BlackBerry system, from BlackBerry .

"We're still at the 'When proprietary systems ruled the Earth' stage of the market's development," says Will Sheward, vice president of marketing at Isode, a maker of email and directory server products that has been involved in the Lemonade process. "That may be about to change."

The initial set of Lemonade protocols is at the request-for-comment stage within IETF, which means that it could be finalized by the end of this year or early 2007. Already, Burger says, 80 percent of the initial OMA requirements have been completed: "We have enough infrastructure to deploy a complete mobile messaging system now."

That means that soon, for the first time, there will be published open standards for all forms of mobile messaging for which anyone can deploy devices and systems. How that will affect RIM and other mobile email providers is not entirely clear -- but RIM, seeing which way the wind is blowing, is a sponsor of the OMA and has employees on the Lemonade working group at IETF.

"Pretty much all of the big messaging players have some level of participation in the process," says Burger. "Would I like to see more participation from the larger players? Yes."

The benefits of open standards for mobile messaging, says Burger, will be the same as in other technologies that started out proprietary and evolved to universal standards -- such as wireless LAN technology. "It's the classic standards pitch -- so you can get it from someone more than just Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), or whoever, because more interoperability gives you more options plus lower cost of ownership, particularly in a corporate environment."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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