In Order to Understand Wireless Email, First Understand the Purposes of the Protocols

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Martin O’Donnell and I came to the conclusion yesterday that in order to make an informed decision about wireless email for a small business, the decision maker needed to understand the purposes of the basic email transport protocols. Without this knowledge, it is extremely difficult to comprehend the services that mobile phone carriers offer and how best to utilize them. The main email protocols are as follows:

  • IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol): designed to work well in situations where a user spends some time at more than one computing device and must see the same incoming email in each place.
  • POP3 (Post Office Protocol version 3): designed to handle situations where a user manages his incoming email through one primary computing device.
  • SMTP (Simple Message Transfer Protocol): designed to allow users to send email between a client and a server or between two servers. (Most people use SMTP to send, regardless of the protocol they use to manage incoming email.)

Many small business people that use or are considering a wireless email device also spend sometime working at a desk. This means that they could benefit from accessing their email via IMAP rather than via POP3.

The fundimental difference between IMAP and POP3 is that the IMAP protocol manages email that is retained on the email server, while the POP3 protocol retrieves email from the server and deletes the messages that have already been read. When you think through these design principles, you’ll also realize that the IMAP protocol is best suited to a wireless data access environment where connectivity is generally available, fast, and purchased on a flat-rate basis or at a low cost.

On the other hand, POP3 could be the right protocol if wireless data access is sporadic, slow, and/or expensive.