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Company aims to bring e-mail to the masses

June 29, 2001 

(IDG) — E-mail may be almost everywhere in this country, but in many places, it still is a rarity. INabling Technologies hopes to change that with a new device, designed to bring e-mail into developing nations.

Called the iStation, the $150 e-mail appliance also helps with chores like word processing and spreadsheets. iNabling Technologies is bundling the device with its own Internet service designed exclusively for text-based e-mail. Users will be charged $3 per month for unlimited mail.

The iStation is built around a processor from Seoul-based Samsung Semiconductor, using the ARM7TDMI CPU core from Cambridge, U.K.-based ARM. The appliance has an in-house developed graphical user interface and device drivers. Besides 256 KB of SRAM, the iStation has 256 KB of storage for user data and 256 KB of storage for application data, implemented in flash memory.

The device, weighing approximately two pounds, also has a built-in modem, and a backlit liquid crystal display for night-time viewing. It can be shared by up to five users with individual personal e-mail IDs, and can store up to 250 e-mail addresses. Once the user has entered the user name and password, e-mail can be composed offline. Mail can be simultaneously sent and received by the click of a button.

A premium model of the iStation has features likely to be useful to corporate users, including a spreadsheet, a text editor, calculator and calendar, a provision for uploading and downloading files from a PC, and text file printing.

E-Mail Everywhere

"The key objectives of the concept are affordability by the masses, accessibility from any location -- even from outside the towns, and ease of use by those who are not computer savvy," says John Aravamuthan, chief executive officer of iNabling Technologies, which is based in India. "Our revenue model is driven by both device sales and from the service."

The company is targeting its new concept at the community use of e-mail through public e-mail offices using the lines of public call offices, which were used to popularize telephony in rural India.

The e-mail appliance and the bundled service are also targeted at personal users of e-mail and at the corporate market for use by sales and marketing staff to communicate field reports to corporate offices. INabling Technologies is also looking beyond the Indian market.

"We plan to be in at least 30 countries in the next three to five years," adds Aravamuthan. "We will do it through a variety of partnerships."

Familiar Plans

Taking cheap communications to India's rural masses has been the aim of many initiatives such as mobile call offices that use mobile telephony as a communications tool for village communities, and the Simputer, a sub-$200 handheld Internet browsing and e-mail appliance designed by Bangalore-based Encore Software in tandem with the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

The iStation has been designed from the ground up by iNabling Technologies using standard off-the-shelf components and is being contract manufactured in Mysore, near Bangalore.

"To drive down cost, we also developed our own software to save on software licensing fees," says Narasimha Prabhu, the company's chief technology officer.

By John Ribeiro, Copyright © 2001 Cable News Network LP, LLLP

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