A new wireless service, which is scheduled for launch in France by the end of this month, will offer access to e-mail for free. The wireless service, called Freedom Mail, will make it possible for subscribers to view and respond to e-mail message on a cell phone or other mobile device regardless of whether or not it’s a smart phone.
Behind the service is SetNet, a Silicon Valley-based company founded in 1993 by Nick Fodor that is the largest provider of wireless e-mail. The company currently offers its technology to service providers, who partner with cell-phone carriers. But now SetNet is taking its technology and creating its own free mail service, supported by advertisements in outgoing e-mail. The company plans to make the free service available in the United States in a few months, following its release in Europe. “Freedom Mail is for the rest of us, for those who don’t have Blackberries but still use e-mail in everyday life,” says Fodor, a computer programmer and the CEO of SetNet.
Currently, if a mobile-phone user wants to have e-mail connectivity through her mobile device, she must either buy a pricey data service through her carrier and have a smart phone, or the subscriber must use a carrier that is partnered with an e-mail client.
The plan for Freedom Mail comes at a time when the biggest players in the market–Research in Motion, Visto, and Microsoft–are locked in a fight over patents. In particular, Visto claims that it invented the idea of wireless electronic mail and mail synchronization. But Fodor worked on “push” e-mail services in the early 1990s, before developing his own synchronization software through Compuserv in 1993. Thus, Fodor’s Freedom Mail, which uses technology that’s similar to that which Visto claims to have patented, could undermine any further legal claims by Visto if the technology proves to have been developed before Visto laid down patent rights in 1999.
“The technology at the heart of the Visto patent is a smart caching system that SetNet has used for 10 years, and [it’s] also what invalidates the patent because we have done it way before they existed,” says Fodor. “Freedom Mail will liberate wireless e-mail from expensive and spurious litigation driven by very few patent owners for the sole purpose of dominating global wireless e-mail communications.”
Freedom Mail will enable wireless subscribers to retrieve their current personal e-mails from Internet service providers, including Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and Gmail, on basic cell phones. The subscriber doesn’t have to go through his carrier; instead, he just sends a text message with his e-mail address to a number specific to the user’s country. Freedom Mail will then confirm the e-mail address and send the subscriber back a bookmark through text. The bookmark is a URL, and when the user clicks on the URL and opens it in a browser, it marks the page. Anytime a user wants to see his e-mail account, he clicks on the bookmark, and all new e-mails will be listed.