BARCELONA -- Microsoft Corp. has won backing from major cellular networks for a new generation of phones designed to transform mobile e-mail from executive accessory to standard issue for the corporate rank-and-file.
The partnerships, with operators including Vodafone and Cingular, to be announced today at a mobile industry gathering in Spain, could spell more trouble for the embattled Blackberry and other niche e-mail technologies, analysts say.
Unlike the Blackberry and its peers, phones running Microsoft's latest Windows Mobile operating system can receive e-mails ''pushed" directly from servers that handle a company's messaging -- without the need for a separate mobile server or additional license payments.
As costs fall, Microsoft is betting companies will extend mobile e-mail beyond top management to millions more of their employees.
''We're at the tipping point of seeing exponential growth in this area," said Pieter Knook, Microsoft's senior vice president for mobile and embedded devices.
On the opening day of the 3GSM phone show, Hewlett-Packard Co. and three other handset makers are expected to launch the first Windows smartphones equipped with the new e-mail technology out of the box. HP's new iPAQ HW6900 Mobile Messenger also offers Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.
Vodafone Group PLC is to sell the phones under its own brand, in a joint marketing deal, targeting companies that already run Microsoft's Exchange software on their servers. Exchange is the collaborative glue behind Microsoft's popular Outlook application, which manages appointments and electronic address books in addition to e-mail.
Together with Cingular Wireless, Orange, and T-Mobile, Vodafone will also deliver phone software upgrades to subscribers who are already running the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system on their smart phones.
Microsoft laid the groundwork for its e-mail offensive with an October update to Exchange -- which led the server software market last year with 48 percent of global sales, according to technology research firm Gartner.
Some observers have been predicting that the new technology will hurt Blackberry's maker, Canada-based Research In Motion Ltd.
Strand Consult, a Denmark-based IT research house, expects companies worldwide to invest in much broader mobile e-mail access for their employees in 2006.