Users of AUTD ActiveSync compatible devices that also have their own Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 can benefit of an always-on approach for messaging.
This feature enables users to automatically receive new messages when they arrive on their Inbox. It feels in many ways similar to the Blackberry experience, but with some subtle differences.
Why I say "AUTD ActiveSync compatible" devices? We know that Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC Phone Edition and Smartphone devices are compatible. What not many users know is that palmOne has licensed the technology to use it with their new devices, starting with the palmOne Treo 650. Although the first version of ActiveSync on Treo 650 is not AUTD compatible, it may come in the future.
In the rest of this article I am going to explore some of the configuration settings and problems I found while configuring my own AUTD ActiveSync platform.
First of all we need to understand how this feature works. The image below shows the sequence of events that are unleashed when a new e-mail is sent to a user with AUTD enabled:
A new e-mail (1) is sent to a user's account (2). The Exchange Server 2003 notifies the mobile device sending a notification message (3) to the SMSC (4) which is the piece of hardware/software on the mobile network that communicates to the mobile device via SMS. The Pocket PC Phone Edition or Smartphone client then starts a synchronisation action using the available connection, either GPRS or CDMA (5) using the server parameters stored on the device.
All this happens without user intervention, after correct configuration. The idea is that e-mails will be automatically synchronised with an AUTD ActiveSync compatible device in a transparent way, and the user will find new e-mails are readily available when needed. Of course we can have the mobile devices synchronising with the Exchange Server 2003 on a schedule, but this may not be efficient in terms of network traffic when the volume of e-mails is low and the device keeps checking an empty Inbox. On the other hand, with AUTD, if your Inbox receives many e-mails during the day then you might want to have the AUTD synchronisation notification sent out to your mobile device only after a few minutes of a new message arrival, otherwise you'll end up having the device always synchronising.
Another thing to consider is the availability and cost of the SMS notification. Your mobile operator should be able to offer you the use of a email-to-SMS gateway. Most operators do, and some charge for the service. With this service you are able to send an e-mail to a special address that will be routed to your mobile device as a SMS. For example, [phone]@operator.com. Also, take in consideration that most US carrier still charge to deliver SMS (perhaps the only country in the world with this practice). If you have a high volume of e-mails then you might want to change the interval between synchronisation notifications, to reduce the number of SMS sent to your device - we will see how to do this later in this article.
First things first: configuring the Exchange Server 2003. Of course this should be done by your Exchange administrator, although it does not involve any risky steps. Start by opening the Exchange System Manager. In the Global Setting right-click Mobile Services and select New and Mobile Carrier. Enter the SMTP domain (the part after @ in [phone]@operator.com) here. This will be your "certified" operator.
Still in the Global Setting open the properties for Mobile Services. You will see a dialog like this one:
Most checkboxes are self-explaining. We want to have at least the Enable up-to-date notifications checked. The checkbox Enable notifications to user specified SMTP addresses will allow users to enter their own [phone]@operator.com address later during the ActiveSync configuration. If this box is unchecked then users must always use one of the operators created in the Mobile Services template, otherwise they will be able to enter their own SMTP address during the ActiveSync configuration.
You can also check that your user's entry in the Active Directory allows these services:
It's important at this stage that you install a SSL Certificate in your server. I recommend using a SSL connection for your synchronisation. First because this will prevent people "reading" your connections. And second because it prevents a "man-in-the-middle" attack. Your options are to install a certificate from a recognised authority (Verisign or Thawte for example), install a certificate from your own certificate authority or disable the certificate check on the client side.
If you decide to disable the certificate checking, then download and follow the instructions for the Certchk program.
Now we need to configure the ActiveSync on your mobile device. Start by placing the device in the cradle, and open Options. Select the Enable Synchronization with a server box, and click the Configure button.
In the next dialog, enter the required information. This will erase all PIM information on your device and create the environment for a synchronisation with a remote Exchange Server 2003. Make sure to check the SSL option if you want to use the secure synchronisation.
Even if you don't use the AUTD feature, from this point you can manually synchronise with your device over any Internet connection (GPRS, CDMA, Wi-Fi or even as a guest in someone's else computer):
To enable the AUTD feature we then click the Device Address button. In the next dialog users will enter either their [phone]@operator.com SMTP address or simply enter the device number and select from the list of mobile operators created before in our server. In the second case they don't need to know the SMTP domain name, simply enter the device number will be enough, since we have already configured this before.
Back in Options we can change the Wireless Schedule so that our mobile device automatically checks with the Exchange Server every [x] minutes, or When new item arrives. This is the option we have to select for AUTD.
It's important to note that for each PIM type (Inbox, Contacts, Calendar) there are options that control how much of each type is synchronised. For example you can have the last month of appointments, or just the last week plus all future events. On the Inbox you can select to have only a small part of the e-mail downloaded, and download the rest on request. This can save some traffic and time.
This completes the configuration. If everything is ok, then new e-mails arriving on the Inbox will trigger the ActiveSync on the mobile device and all items will be available without intervention, like magic.
Now, what to do if things go wrong? Well, in my case things were not working the way I wanted. First my Smartphone was receiving only two or three notifications a day, when I was expecting at least 50. There's a way to check if the messages are being sent out or not. The KB article 822176 Troubleshoot Exchange 2003 Always-Up-To-Date Notification explains how to set the Logging options for the MSExchangeActiveSync service and how to find the message being sent out and how to trace it:
An important download is the Exchange Server AUTD Binding Cleanup. This tool Enables an administrator to view and remove existing AUTD event registration items (bindings). This can be done on an individual and on a bulk level.
If you still have problems I suggest you to check if your Exchange Server 2003 is accessible from the Internet. Make sure your firewall is not blocking the access to port 443 (https, used by the secure connection). A very good resource to keep troubleshooting ActiveSync errors is Chris De Herrera's Windows CE Website.