When it comes to cell/smartphones and business users, the most important innovation of the past decade has unquestionably been push-EMail. Love or hate the BlackBerry, it has - combined with push-EMail - become an indispensable tool for many.
Unfortunately, a variety of technical and economic factors make push-EMail much less attractive for small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers, etc. Both Microsoft Exchange and BlackBerry server software - the main "traditional" options for push-EMail - either require you to run your own server, or to purchase the service through your mobile carrier. Most mobile carriers treat push-EMail as a premium service, and charge significantly higher for the service than they do for generic data transfer - and here in Canada, our data transfer rates are sky-high to begin with.
Enter EMail-to-SMS gateways.
I currently have a phone with Rogers, so I use their EMail-to-SMS service - it's availble with Rogers' mobile data plans, or it can be used on its own for a monthly fee (if you don't have a data plan). Using their gateway is fairly simple - just send an EMail message to email@example.com, replacing "yourphonenumber" with your actual 9-digit number. E.g. for the number 506-555-4444, the address would be "firstname.lastname@example.org".
Another way to find your EMail-to-SMS address is to send a text from your phone to your EMail address - many phones will let you enter an EMail address instead of a phone number as the recipient of a text message. Then, when you receive the message at your EMail address, simply check the "From" address - and you can test it by sending a reply.
Within a minute or so, you should receive a message on your phone - if you don't have a data plan, you may get a message asking if you want to activate the EMail-to-SMS service. Otherwise, the SMS will contain basic details of the message (sender & subject), and instruct you to reply with the text "read" (to view the message) or "more" (to view the next piece of a longer message).
This is a little more cumbersome than it could be - fortunately, the phone I use (an old Palm Treo) has a "QuickText" menu in the SMS application, which can be used for quickly inserting commonly-used words or phrases. I've added both "read" and "more" to the QuickText list - otherwise, typing those commands every single time would get irritating quickly.
While that setup is more awkward to use than normal push-EMail, there are 3rd-party EMail-to-SMS forwarding services without those limitations. Those services will instead send the entire message via SMS, without the need for "read" and "more" commands. This can be problematic with long messages, however - because of the SMS character limit, long EMails are normally broken up into multiple SMS messages. For example, you could easily end up with a single EMail that's broken up in 20 or 30 text messages (or more); aside from being annoying, that can quickly get expensive, depending on the rates you pay for text messaging/data transfer.
So far, this just covers the basics of EMail-to-SMS forwarding. In Part 2, I'll discuss the options and make recommendations for general usage & configuration of EMail-to-SMS. Stay tuned!
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