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The difference between Windows Mobile and BlackBerry push email

Ultimate 6150 beside BlackBerry Bold

It looks like the perennial discussion on the difference between Windows Mobile and BlackBerry push email is still on-going, at least at the local HardwareZone Forums.  I have posted a response where I attempt to explain the issue in a way that is more accessible to the lay-person.  An excerpt of the key points is below; hope it proves useful to you:

A quick backgrounder. In the past, I have actively used push mail on the Windows Mobile platform on at least two different Windows Mobile devices over a couple of years. I am now on my 4th BlackBerry – the first two were company-owned while the latest two were purchased by me.

Let me try to clarify on the differences between the two.


By using an Network Operating Center (NOC), the BlackBerry method represents the most battery and data efficient method for push email. In a lay person’s term, the email is forwarded to your BlackBerry by the RIM-operated NOC only when there is email. And even then, only the first chunk of email is sent. In the absence of email, nothing at all happens, and your BlackBerry behaves much like a normal mobile phone.

As you can imagine, unless you receive a hundred emails an hour, enabling push email on the BlackBerry does not normally result in any noticeable reduction in battery life.

RIM is able to do that because of your BlackBerry registers itself with your Telco, which forwards the information on to the RIM NOC. The result is that the NOC now knows exactly where to forward your emails to. This is also the reason why a normal data plan is not adequate to give you BlackBerry email services.

Windows Moble

On the other hand, the push email employed by Windows Mobile uses the HTTP protocol, which is a clever piece of engineering to do away with an NOC, actually.

Imagine typing an URL into your Web browser and then hitting “Enter”. Instead of a response coming in right away, imagine your Smartphone doing that and then waiting instead for up to 8 minutes (default). If nothing happens, the Smartphone does it again just to make sure that the connection is still up.

If there is an email though, your Windows Mobile Smartphone will get a response. At this point, your WM Smartphone will perform an over-the-air activesync to retrieve it. Since your WM Smartphone talks directly to your server, no NOC is necessary, nor any involvement on the Telco level beyond the availability of a normal data connection.

Battery life is shortened however, due to the constant need to connect to the server even if there is no email.

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  1. May 30th, 2009 at 17:28 | #1

    Thanks for this clarification, and for dropping by! Helped much! :)

  2. May 30th, 2009 at 21:13 | #2

    I’d love to learn more about the technical details of the BlackBerry NOC. At what level of the stack is this message sent? Is it in any way similar to an SMS? I’m guessing that it only works on GSM networks.

    Also, I presume that iPhones work the same way as Windows Mobile phones. Since Apple licensed Active Sync for their push email.

  3. Paul Mah
    May 31st, 2009 at 01:26 | #3

    Dear Alex,

    The data is sent via normal UDP packets that is encrypted at the data level. As you can imagine, this will allow it to work the same way via 2G or 3G networks.

    And yes, I somehow neglected to mention the iPhone, but it does use the same sync technology as Windows Mobile phones. I have not used the iPhone for push mail before, but I believe Apple has opted to only implement the most crucial functions for push mail, and have left out others like server-side search etc. Of course, this could well change with version 3.0 of the iPhone OS.

    Paul Mah.

  4. May 31st, 2009 at 03:32 | #4

    As a BB & iPhone 3G user with Microsoft 2003 & Exchange 2007 Activesync, I have seen some advantages for both mobile phones.

    I still like the UI of iPhone 3G when it comes to Microsoft 2007 – 2003 email. You can see all of your folders in one nice easy to read view. Instead of the BlackBerry one large email “payload”.

    If any of your readers are experiencing iPhone 3G Exchange Setup issues with Activesync, please visit our Exchange Setup blog for more information: http://www.computerrepairservice.net/blog

  5. Paul Mah
    May 31st, 2009 at 12:52 | #5

    Dear jpgnfx,

    Don’t mention it. :)

    Paul Mah.

  6. dofzin
    June 11th, 2009 at 05:45 | #6

    You left out the server side of the discussion. How does the NOC know there is email available from your server? It needs to constantly poll the inbox. For example, a BES server will check every Blackberry-connected mailbox on an Exchange server in a round-robin fashion. This increases the workload on the Exchange server. It is not truly push email, it’s poll-pull-push.

    AFAIK, you can’t carry 2 Blackberries at the same time each checking the same corporate email account. In contrast, you can have multiple Windows Mobile (really, any Exchange ActiveSync client) devices. While the device is responsible for creating the initial connection to the server (and keeping it open), the Exchange Server pushes mail notification directly to all the devices with an open connection.

    In my experience, Blackberry devices only deliver “new” items to the device; Exchange automatically delivers any item the device does not have, creating a truly synchonized device. I’ve also seen emails show up on a Blackberry with the wrong timestamp (when they were delivered to the Blackberry, not when they were received in the inbox).

    Finally, Windows Mobile devices can establish a sync connection over any transport, so when roaming and data is more expensive, it is easy to switch to wi-fi to get mail delivery over a cheaper transport.

    There are pros and cons to both, but the big issue for Blackberry is that the NOC architecture makes the NOC a single point of failure, outside of IT control (and probably the world’s most interesting cracking target given the amount of email that travels through it). I think if RIM were going to do it all over again, they’d eliminate the NOC.

  7. Jack
    June 11th, 2009 at 10:54 | #7

    I am not sure I fully understand the Microsoft solution. It does not sound like it is push email at all. Sounds more like polling. Where does the push part come into play.

  8. Dave Parker MVP
    June 11th, 2009 at 16:57 | #8

    Hi Paul,

    Battery life on WM devices is usually shorter because of the juicy big bright Touchscreens and 3G connections. Something Blackberry’s haven’t had to worry about until very recently. The S620′s we’ve used at work will go a week on a single battery charge. No Touchscreen, no 3G.

    Also, you mention “And even then, only the first chunk of email is sent.”

    Windows Mobile will allow you to download the headers only or as much or little of the email as you choose. This way you can decide for yourself whether you want to wait for your emails to download in real time or when they arrive on the device and whether to include attachments or not.

    Finally, you say “Battery life is shortened however, due to the constant need to connect to the server even if there is no email.” The Blackberry devices also require a constant connection to the RIM infrastructure through an always reserved PDP context (Packet Data Protocol).


  9. Amandeep
    June 18th, 2009 at 11:43 | #9

    Hi ,

    Blackberry is more secure then Active synch. All workes through NOC and entrypted. On other side Active sych is a less secure that is reason most of financial companies prefer blackberry over activesynch.

  10. June 27th, 2009 at 09:36 | #10

    I am always eager for information about SEO. Keep up the great work! Thanks!

  11. Glenn
    July 2nd, 2009 at 18:01 | #11


    Thanks for the great info.

    How about the speed of email deliveries for WM smartphones?

    I’m currently using Blackberry Curve – with multiple emails setup on it. The delivery time is pretty decent (lag time of no more than 5-8 minutes from delivery to the server). Btw I use only POP3 emails.

    Just wondering if WM smartphones have the same (if not better) multiple emails response times?


  12. David
    July 19th, 2009 at 13:30 | #12

    The description of how Active Sync push works isn’t quite right.

    The recommended minimum heart beat is 15 min not 8 and it can be controlled through a registry setting or policy.

    The heart beat does not do a check for email instead it is more like a ping to let the server know it is still at the same address and to keep the session alive, if there is no response it reconnects.

    Mail is PUSHED by the server when it arrives to the phone using the open connection.

    We have Blackberries, windows mobile and iPhones working off of the same exchange servers. Email is delivered nearly simultaneously to all 3 types of devices.

    Newer blackberries with WiFi, and large color screens get bad batter life as well when the users leave these features on. We have one user that has to go through several batteries a day because he keeps forgetting to turn his wifi off on this blackberry.

    Email on a BB goes from Exchange, to a BES server then to RIMS NOC then to the phone. Mail on a WM or iPhone goes from Exchange direct to the device.

    The whole PUSH part is not a big difference, the big difference as someone has already posted is that WM and iPhone have Giant power sucking touch capable displays. The BB Storm suffers the same.

  13. Jason
    July 19th, 2009 at 13:32 | #13


    When sending an email on Windows Mobile, the mailbox automatically syncs (If you configure it to do that). So, emails are sent instantly. I have my HTC Touch Pro syncing email with my GMail account, and there’s absolutely no lag time when I’m sending. Receiving… well, whatever your schedule for checking is set at is how much lag time there is there.

    I really haven’t noticed any extra battery drain when I set my email to sync every two minutes compared to every hour or turning it off. It’s just a small bit of data it has to exchange, even if you have a bunch of emails.

  14. son
    August 16th, 2009 at 16:35 | #14

    this is “the” explanation we regular users have been looking for and try to understand what blackberry push email is all about and why bb “connection” is so stable (very very rare “lost connection”)… if my understanding is correct, for example, yahoo messenger on bb should be “open/active” but not continuously connected to the operator’s internet connection unless the app sends/receives, whereas winmo or other 3rd.party;s push email solutions seem to connect “directly” to the operator connection just like when browsing on your cellphone, and that’s why more frequently you lose connection (disconnected)….

    am i putting correctly…

  15. son
    August 16th, 2009 at 16:58 | #15

    … doesnt matter whether RIM’s NOC or BIS or whatever you call it, actually connects/syncs/ pools/pulls or whatever with the other side’s network… as far as common users, like me, are concerned – push-email should be pretty “instant” (sending/receiving, instead of scheduled syncs), rare lost-connections (no wifi required just plain old connection with the operator network or whatever), and battery-saving – doesnt care what happens in the background… overall bb seems to have been successful in doing all the above at least my friends never have complaints compared to those who’re winmo users, and am buying a bb..ha ha..finally i can decide…

  16. Paul Mah
    August 17th, 2009 at 18:58 | #16

    Hi “Son”

    IM on the BlackBerry will work differently, though I got better battery life than on my previous Windows Mobile devices. My own theory is that IM is related to how many active users you have on your buddy list.

    Having used both the BlackBerry (5 devices so far) and Windows Mobile (3 devices), I can personally attest to the fact that the BlackBerry simply performs better when it comes to push e-mail.

    While it would not be entirely accurate to say that the BlackBerry has never failed, it is rare indeed and is always fixed by a restart at the most. “Freezes” on my previous Windows Mobile devices when it comes to push e-mails are pretty common.

  17. son
    August 31st, 2009 at 09:42 | #17

    hi paul, nokia messaging is on trial, and it is supposed to rival the blackberry push. yet nokia, according to their official site, is on IMAP idle. how does it work ? how is it different from blackberry ? and where is my phone operator between my phone and nokia ? is it more battery consuming ? are other push providers like momail, seven the same as the nokia messaging (using imap idle).

  18. September 6th, 2009 at 21:33 | #18

    EVERYONE, except for BB (and maybe your network operator) are using IMAP Idle and falsely call it a “Push Email Solution” because it mimics as a push email to a casual user. To a heavy business user the differences are upfront.

  19. September 23rd, 2009 at 12:34 | #19

    Thanks for the explanation. Was searching everywhere online for a simple and understandable version, but nothing really came up. This helped a lot. :)

  20. Abel H
    December 5th, 2009 at 03:27 | #20

    none PUBLIC server use other than pop3/imap service. The imap-idle command is to notify there is new email in server. If the imap service not support idle command (or imap not exist, then it will try pop3 service), the Push Email Service Company will use schedule pull email then push the email to their customer.


  21. Abel H
    December 5th, 2009 at 05:47 | #21

    Good explanation can be read at

  22. GVR Reddy
    December 28th, 2009 at 14:23 | #22

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for the wonderful discussions provided by you all. I am an HTC Touch Diamond user and was wondering whether I made a mistake in not going of BB. I also would like to share my thoughts on the subject but before that I would like get some missing information in thinking.

    a) almost all of you discussed about the email capabilities of the devices. What about the internet capabilities? How do they compare in this aspect and which one is better for this purpose both when you are in your normal country of residence and when you are roaming?

    b) what about Note Taker feature? My phone has this feature and I found it of GREAT GREAT use. I now do not have to carry a separate pocket note book to scribble notes when I am on the move for shopping etc. To the best of my knowledge the BB Storm, though is a touch screen version does not have this feature

    Hope some of you will respond and provide the above missing information.

    Thanks in advance.


  23. waqas
    January 13th, 2010 at 11:21 | #23

    great feed.

  24. January 14th, 2010 at 06:31 | #24

    Amandeep :Hi ,
    Blackberry is more secure then Active synch. All workes through NOC and entrypted. On other side Active sych is a less secure that is reason most of financial companies prefer blackberry over activesynch.

    is this strictly correct when you concider that the SSL Cert you chose to use for authentication can also be multipurposed for signing or\and encryption at 2048bit and above?

  25. January 20th, 2010 at 06:30 | #25

    Something I would like to comment on, and then compare them based on cost. first, I have to question the blanket statement that Blackberry is more secure than Windows Mobile ActiveSync, and ask where that information is coming from, and can it be backed up.
    Having supported both on the Exchange side of things for several years now, I notice carriers are now charging the extra $14 on top of the normal $30 data plan for Windows Mobile ActiveSync customers (I verified this with Verizon and At&t), just the same as the Blackberry Enterprise users have been having to pay for years. I have a Blackberry using Enterprise, and I was wanting to switch to a Windows mobile device, and was shocked to hear this. Can someone verify if this is necessary or not to get ActiveSync to work?


  26. Oliver
    February 1st, 2010 at 18:53 | #26

    Great to have all these info on this thread.
    I got 2 days ago Activesync setup on my HTC. Having a BB or the like in my company means you are more valuable (that you must get emails on the spot wherever / whenever). It’s obviously also a way to draw a distinction between the company’s casts.

    Practically, with our laptops, it’s actually rare you are not connected, wired or wireless and offer a much more comfortable and efficient way to process emails. That leaves out time you commute, eat, fly, sleep, have a smoke, etc.

    So if indeed it’s nice to have also your emails on this little box, is it so vital? And especially on Push or Pull. That’s between receiving *instantaneously*, or let say, every 30mn. I’m curious to know, how many times you reckon, these 30mn would make any difference?

    The pace of our life accelerates a lot but dont we also let it go to our head a bit?

  27. Paul Mah
    February 1st, 2010 at 19:03 | #27

    Hi Oliver,

    Actually, I don’t really imagine there is much difference (practically) whether its “push” or “pull” anymore. Ultimately, the difference is in the mere seconds to minutes at the most.

    As such, I believe its just a way of working, and not really in the speed. Much like how email is so much faster compared to traditional “snail” mail. I used to maintain pen pals in the past; which, unfortunately is a hobby that sadly obsoleted by our “now” culture.

  28. DS
    February 26th, 2010 at 06:16 | #28

    Here is my question, I am not so much concerned with how it gets the email to my phone but, does a WIMO phone or Android for that matter save my emails to the phone so that when I turn on my PC and remove the messages from the server they stay on my phone?

  29. Paul Mah
    February 26th, 2010 at 10:44 | #29

    Hi DS, a WIMO phone synced to an Exchange server (push email) will reflect the changes that you make in y our Outlook. This is one of the features of using Exchange ActiveSync technology. i.e. You only have to sort/delete your e-mails once.

  30. BT
    April 12th, 2010 at 22:54 | #30

    Hi All,
    I want to invest in either BB or Other Emails Featured Phones that have other interesting features as well. I work independently / self employed and have to check my emails 3-4 times during the delay….never mind the couple of minutes of delay. What is a better buy?? Also what I understand from all these communications is that Email features are more or less the same on both the devices.
    Will await valuable advise.

  31. Paul Mah
    April 12th, 2010 at 22:59 | #31

    @BT I would go for the BlackBerry if e-mail is important. I have owned/used the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile phones, and the iPhone 3GS. Without a shadow of doubt, the most reliable in terms of push e-mail is the BlackBerry.

  32. private eye
    April 23rd, 2010 at 15:12 | #32

    What do you guys think of Synchronica solution for mobile operators as regards the push email?

  33. Canonite
    April 30th, 2010 at 22:18 | #33

    BT I would have to agree with Paul’s recommendation. I can’t say anything about Windows Mobile, but I have just recently got myself an Iphone 3GS, thinking the push email (e.g using yahoo mail, gmail only has fetch) would work pretty well. It did at times, but at other times, it would take up to 15 minutes to get to my mailbox, sometimes longer. I switch regularly from wifi to 3G (not sure if this is the reason) and have bought apps that would ‘push’ emails or email notifications to me. Same thing happens. And same thing happens to IM’s as well, and I’ve tried many of them.

    The bb on the other hand, has never failed me so far, the longest being perhaps 30 seconds in receiving alerts for new emails. I run an online web store and my customers would either email me or IM me. Now, I use beejive IM which pushes emails to me if there’s a new message on my IM if i am on idle (to save battery as oppose to always being left on in the background). If i were to rely on my iphone, 15 minutes to notify me of an IM coming in is too long, and would probably cost me a potential customer. So if email (or maybe in the near future IM) is important to you, the blackberry will less likely to disappoint you. (sadly, the bb’s user interface, browsing experience is less than exciting, perhaps with the OS 6.0 that might change)
    Speaking from my short personal experience.

  34. Richard
    November 3rd, 2010 at 13:14 | #34

    Actually, the emails from my corporate Exchange server to my WM Omnia II is instant! In fact, I get it on my phone before my laptop which is always connected on the corporate LAN! I would hear the email beep on my phone & if I am at my desk, check the notebook instead!

    However, this feature is only available on Exchange Server 2007 onwards. And yes, you are required to register your phone number with the server, just like BB! Actually, my Omnia II failed to complete the registration so I had to use my ancient Dopod 838pro to complete the registration to my new number. The Dopod was using a data only line to receive push email since 2008…

    I guess there is true push on WM just that lots of folks are lazy to implement it (on the Exchange server). The old polling method still works though, as shown by my colleagues’ iPhones.

  35. November 29th, 2011 at 14:38 | #35

    I had a Blackberry which I used for about two years. I recently exchanged it for a Windows Mobile Smartphone. I never knew the difference between the two technologies until I experienced it for myself. With my BlackBerry I would get an email notification almost instantly when I received an email. I know this because I have sent myself many emails from my various email accounts. It was’nt until I exchanged my phone that I realized that it was taking up to half an hour to get my email notification with my WM Smartphone. I changed the default setting to check every five minutes, now I have to fully charge my phone twice a day because it drains my batteries. I need instant notifications for my business so waiting even five minutes is too long.

    Bottom line, I will be going back to my BlackBerry phone because I use it mostly for my emails.

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