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Deutsche Telekom to Push Out De-Mail

It expects De-Mail to become the standard in the next few years

Deutsche Telekom is set to launch the long-awaited secure, legally binding - and paid - e-mail system known as De-Mail throughout Germany on August 31.

"De-Mail brings us a step closer to the gigabit society," Telekom CEO René Obermann said.

Deutsche Telekom and other De-Mail peddlers mean to use the widgetry to put Deutsche Post and other conventional mail carriers out of business.

It says 17.5 billion pieces of mail are sent a year in Germany, 90% of it business mail, and much of it can be done electronically.

It expects De-Mail, which was developed at the instigation of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, to become the standard in the next few years, replacing 29% of the 17.5 billion letters and 39% of the 3 5.4 billion faxes sent a year in Germany by 2018.

Deutsche Post's rival, E-Postbrief, which may have scaling issues, hasn't got the leverage of De-Mail.

Telekom claims 1.5 million people have reserved a De-Mail address with a provider and the number of companies intending to use De-Mail is already in the "tens of thousands," beginning with Targobank, the German retail banking arm of Citibank, and Allianz, the big insurance company.

These firms are anxious to digitize their customer relationships to reduce postage, paper and printing costs.

Alexander Vollert, a member of the board of Allianz Germany, said, "De-Mail replaces the physical signature, which was often essential in the past, making it a genuine alternative to letters and faxes signed in person."

Ordinary e-mail is more insecure than conventional postal mail. Not so De-Mail, which is supposed to be encrypted and its users' identities verified.

To promote the service, Deutsche Telekom says private customers can send up to 50 De-Mails a month for free until December 31. After that, three standard De-Mails a month will be free and any additional De-Mails will cost 49 cents (€0.39) apiece.

Small and medium-sized enterprises will be able to send 50 standard De-Mails a month for free for six months if they sign up for the De-Mail service by December 31. Large customers can expect to pay about $338 (€270) a month for 1,000 De-Mails.

Companies will also be able to use a hybrid De-Mail. Telekom will print the De-Mail out and have it delivered by partners such as TNT Post.

Otherwise De-Mail messages can be sent or received any time of the day or night, even via smartphones. And the sender can request confirmations of transmission and receipt. RPost may have something to say about that.

The De-Mail interface is supposed to be user-friendly. The e-mail looks to the user like another other e-mail - and works like e-mail too.

Private users and commercial customers access their De-Mailbox via their browser. Deutsche Telekom will connect large companies and public administrations to De-Mail via central gateways.

Like Zumbox, Doxo and Manilla, the American versions of these things De-mail includes a De-Safe, where users can keep digital documents.

The scheme is controversial because authorities reportedly have access to people's in-boxes, which has Germany's Pirate Party's knickers in a twist.

Markus Barenhoff, deputy chairman of the German Pirate Party, said, "It's impossible to understand why consumers would suddenly want to pay 49 cents an e-mail without drawing any meaningful benefit. De-Mail can't even communicate with a conventional e-mail service. And the promised security lacks end-to-end encryption."

The left-leaning party, concerned with patent and trademark reform and privacy, has its own data protection expert, who says, "Digitally signed e-mail messages are much safer with encryption such as PGP or S/MIME. Both methods ensure security across the entire communication path and are independent of the e-mail providers are already available. The telecom system offers no advantages over traditional encodings."

The Pirates recommend that people refrain from registering with the De-Mail service.

Meanwhile Post and Parcel reports that Deutsche Post will be pulling the personal encryption and digital signature capabilities out of its E-Postbrief this month to make E-Postbrief easier to use. It claims the basic widgetry is secure enough to meet the requirements for transmitting legal documents electronically without the extra security.

It's unclear how many users E-Postbrief has.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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