FRANKFURT United Internet's 1&1 unit, one of the world's biggest Web hosting companies, will offer BlackBerry-like services to its customers through a partnership with Silicon Valley start-up Funambol.
Funambol said on Tuesday it would collaborate with 1&1, which manages 71 million mailboxes, on so-called push email -- delivered to the customer's mailbox without having to be called up -- and the management of personal information such as contacts and calendars.
The move is part of a trend towards making mobile email and other kinds of messaging available to the mass market, extending its scope beyond the corporate clientele for whom Research in Motion's BlackBerry smartphone is de rigeur.
And it is an important win for Funambol, whose open-source approach to software development distinguishes it from larger competitors such as Seven, Visto or Berggi -- all of whom are racing to establish positions before Google, Yahoo and Nokia enter the game.
Funambol says its 10,000-strong open-source developer community testing the company's software on the hundreds of phone models in the market means it has the advantage of being quickly adaptable to be compatible with almost any handset.
"You need to have what we have: the enormous community testing our software on every possible phone," Chief Executive Fabrizio Capobianco told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Funambol has several hundreds of thousands of customers, analysts estimate. It says its software has been downloaded more than 1 million times by developers.
Monica Basso, mobility analyst at research firm Gartner, said: "Yes there is some potential but at the same time there are a lot of vendors."
Funambol's software is based on the open SynclML standard and the package it is developing with 1&1 is integrated with Open-Xchange collaboration software.
Funambol, which does its research and development in Italy but moved its management to Silicon Valley in 2005 to secure funding, allows its software to be freely used and modified but also charges license fees for commercial use.