I love email. I enjoy receiving and writing emails and always have done. As soon as I heard that some mobile phones were email enabled, I wanted one, obviously. Until I could afford to upgrade, however, I had to make do with substitutes. You can always send SMS, of course, but not all the people I wanted to contact had mobile phones. So I looked around for a solution.
The first solution I found was SMS2email. This company enables you to send an SMS formatted in a particular way and then passes it on as an email. It really works and I have often used it. Moreover, this part of the service is free. The problem is that your correspondent cannot reply to you. If he tries, his reply disappears into the aether. In order to establish two way communications (SMS to email and email reply back to SMS), you would have to sign up for a paid contract. I didn’t want to do this as I already had several email accounts and it wasn’t an essential extra expense.
When we acquired our Nokia 9300 Communicators, I was happy to find that these had on-board email clients, so I soon had some accounts set up and could at last send and receive emails on my phone. However, there is a small but important problem with this. Unlike your good old dial-up or broadband connections on the computer which run at a flat rate, you have to pay every time you go online with your mobile.
Now, as far as I am concerned, it’s OK to pay to go online to collect my emails, as the connection last only a few seconds, but that assumes that you know when there are emails to collect. And how do you know that? The answer is that you don’t. So you keep going online to check and spending money to look at an empty inbox. Apart from the money, this is inefficient and offends my sense of the elegant. I like systems to be elegant.
This problem has been addressed in the design of newer mobiles which have what is called “push email”. This, in case you don’t know, is a system that “pushes” the email at you; in other words, it tells you that there is a new email waiting for you saving you the trouble of going to look. That’s fine for people who have the newer top-end phones but what about the rest of us?
The answer, I suppose, is that the rest of us can lump it but that’s not an answer I like, so I have been looking around for a solution. A solution was so difficult to find that I gave up… several times. Yes, I can be stubborn when something gets my goat and I kept looking even when it seemed pretty certain that there was nothing to find.
There were possible solutions but they were clumsy and likely to be expensive. For example, you could set the server to copy incoming emails to an email-to-SMS service so that when you received the SMS version you would know there was an email in your inbox. It could work, I suppose, though I haven’t tried it.
Then, just last night, I happened upon a solution, quite by chance. As I surfed the Web I noticed a forum message from someone saying that he had had trouble getting Hotmail alerts working but had finally managed. Eh? What? Hotmail? I haven’t used Hotmail for years and when I last saw it, it was a clunky Web-only system, not capable of connecting to an offline email client via POP3. So what was this about Hotmail alerts? I thought I’d better check.
Hotmail has of course been taken over by Microsoft. (Chorus of groans.) I ran it to earth in my Windows Live account. Joining Windows Live is the sort of thing I do on a wet afternoon when I have run out of good reading. It’s not the sort of thing I would do on purpose, you understand. But it at least gave me the chance to look at Hotmail which these days is about as Hotmail as New Labour is Labour, which is to say, hardly at all. For one thing, you can now collect your Hotmail by POP3 and send it by SMTP and, for another, it has SMS alerts! This looked like the solution to my problem. But was it?
First, I had to link my mobile to Hotmail. This should be a straightforward process: you type in your phone number, they text you a code, you type the code into a window on the Web page, and away you go. In my case, it wasn’t so simple. This was because Windows Live thought my mobile number belonged to T-Mobile. Before you can set up alerts, you have to receive a “Welcome Message”. This is really just to prove that you have agreed to the terms and conditions of the network provider for your mobile. But because they thought I was with T-Mobile, it didn’t work.
I had to go through the setup process and then hunt through the settings until I found where I could alter the name of my provider from T-Mobile to Orange. Thereupon, I had to accept another “Welcome Message” but once we had done that, I was home and dry: send an email to the account and—bing!—an SMS is delivered to my mobile.
Having got to that stage, the next job was to set up the email on my phone with POP3 and SMTP. I found the necessary settings by clicking help in the online email program (a blue button with a question mark on it) and typing “POP3” into the search box. The panel that came up gave me the settings and informed me I would need to set up authentication using TTL. No problem, can do. When all was ready I gave it a whirl and… it didn’t work!
I tried several times, all in vain, but as by then I had had enough of the whole thing, I went to bed with a sudoku puzzle.
This morning, I tried again and, after trying every possible combination of settings, I got to the point where I would receive an SMS telling me there was mail and I could then go and collect the mail. Hurrah! Sorted! I was about to dash off a self-congratulatory blog on the subject but it occurred to me that I should first try sending mail. So I did and… it didn’t work! (How many words do you know beginning with f- because I think I used them all…)
You know what servers are like: the reject your email and sit there smugly refusing to tell you why. There is a limit to how many times you can bear to go through the settings with a fine tooth comb before you become sick of the whole enterprise. And then I found the problem. The email address ends in live.co.uk and that is also the username for collecting and sending mail. I suddenly saw that while I had spelt it correctly for receiving mail I had written “live.oc.uk” for sending. Once this was corrected, everything worked.
So I now have on my phone what I call AGAPE (pronounced “agga-pea”), which stands for “As Good AS Push Email”. If a new email arrives in my inbox, I receive an SMS and can go and collect it. No SMS, no email, no expense. Brill. Just what I have always wanted.
Of course, the human spirit never stays still for long. I was soon thinking “Well, that’s all very well, it works and all that but…” But what? Well, it’s a bit untidy and Windows Live Hotmail is still a rather clumsy beast and maybe I can do better. So my next attempt will be to set up AGAPE using Orange email which has an altogether nicer online interface and email alerts. The only thing is that I can’t open an Orange email account. Why not? You tell me. I’ve tried and tried without success, so today I rang the helpline.
“Oh,” they said. “That’s a known problem,” they said, adding quickly “With some accounts”.
“We’ll have to escalate it,” they said. Pardon? “Yes, we’ll have to escalate it to the next level but this may take some time. We’ll call you at some point.”
So I am waiting to be called and wondering what they will say. Has my account been judged and found wanting? Or is a mere technical problem standing between me and the culmination of my desires? Who can tell? Time will reveal all. And so will I when the time comes.