There are all sorts of ways to access your email while on the road. You can set up a web-based account with Hotmail, Yahoo or any of a host of other online services. You can use your ISP’s or company’s web-based email log-in. You can use remote control software to access your desktop. You can tinker around with Gmail’s IMAP and forwarding settings to cobble something together.
Each of these options has distinct disadvantages.
What would be really handy is to take your office or home email with you: to use the same email program, the same email address, the same configuration and the same mail store no matter where you are.
That’s all possible using mobile SMTP.
SMTP is one of those bits of technology most of us use every day without realising it. You’ve probably come across the SMTP acronym when setting up your email program, accepted it as something cryptic, plugged in the appropriate value provided by your Internet Service Provider together with the equally cryptic POP server address, and then forgotten about it.
SMTP is not the sort of thing the average computer user spends a lot of time thinking about. If you know what the initials stand for – Simple Mail Transport Protocol – you’re ahead of the game. And if you know that SMTP is a protocol – a set of rules – used to send email from your email program to a mail server and from one mail server to another, you have most of the story you need.
SMTP usually works in conjunction with one of two other protocols, POP (Post Office Protocol) or IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), both designed to retrieve email from mail servers.
Why do you need another SMTP service?
Usually, you can leave the niceties of POP and SMTP servers to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or your company’s IT department. Email services are part of the bundle of Internet services all ISPs provide, and once you’ve configured your copy of Outlook Express, Outlook, Eudora or whichever email program you use, following the directions provided by your ISP, you’re done with it.
There are times, though, when you might want to dump your ISP’s server in favour of an alternative, whether that’s a server you can install and run from your own computer or a mobile SMTP service. In fact, there are many advantages to wresting control of your outgoing email from your ISP’s hands:
- Use the same email program and address anywhere. Mobile SMTP is available wherever you go and from whatever device you use to access your email. If you spend your life in Microsoft Outlook and love its integration of contacts, calendaring and email, you can use it when you take your laptop on the road.
- Avoid the dreaded Relaying Denied message. You may come across this message when you try to send email using one ISP’s server when you’re connected to the Internet via a second ISP or through a wireless hotspot. Frequently ISPs refuse to deliver mail which doesn’t originate from one of their own accounts, as many spammers try to cover their tracks by using this technique. You’re likely to run into the ‘relaying denied’ message either when you’re travelling and using a different ISP on the road, or if you have multiple ISP accounts and you try to send mail to ISP x when connected via ISP y. With mobile SMTP, you’ll be able to send messages from anywhere in the world, through any of your mail accounts.
- Avoid server delays. Using a mobile SMTP server, you can circumvent delays when your ISP’s outgoing mail server is unavailable. Most ISPs provide reliable mail service, but there are times when a mail server is down – either crashed or undergoing maintenance – and those times always seem to occur when you have an urgent message which must be delivered now. If you have a mobile SMTP server – provided the main Internet connection is still functioning – you can send email regardless of your ISP’s SMTP server status.
- Speed. When you send a message via your ISP, clicking Send merely delivers the message to the ISP’s SMTP server. Depending on its load, performance settings and other factors your mail may be sent on to its destination immediately or it may sit on the server for some time. With mobile SMTP, as soon as you click Send your message is on its way to its destination.
- Privacy. Anyone with access to your ISP’s mail server is in a position to inspect all mail which passes through it. Most ISPs, so we’re assured, are careful about their customers’ email security, but if you prefer to limit the vulnerability of sensitive email, having your own SMTP server cuts out a major weak point in the communications link.
- Avoid blacklisting. Sometimes when spammers use an address on a particular ISP to send out their mass mailings, the ISP itself ends up on a spam blacklist, together with anyone who sends email from its domain. When that happens, you may find your emails blocked, and remedying the situation is usually nightmarish.
Using a mobile SMTP service
Replacing your usual SMTP server is surprisingly easy. You can either download and install your very own SMTP server or you can use an SMTP relay service. A Google search for ‘smtp server’ or ‘smtp service’ will turn up a bunch of alternatives.
I’ve used several of the downloadable servers with mixed results. I used to recommend PostCast Server, but on recent trips I’ve found it to be less than 100% reliable. I’ve had similar problems when trying to use Google’s free Gmail SMTP server.
While both those options have the benefit of being free (there’s also a commercial version of PostCast Server), if you want reliability and ultra-simple setup, it’s hard to go past one of the SMTP relay services, such as SMTP2Go, AuthSMTP or SMTP.com.
To use such a service, all you do is alter a few account settings in your chosen email program. Once you’ve done that, all your outgoing email will automatically be sent via the service’s SMTP server.
A couple of simple configuration changes are all you need to get up and running with SMTP2Go.
I’ve been using SMTP2Go. It took a minute to configure Outlook 2007 to use it, following the instructions provided, and it’s worked flawlessly ever since.
As with most relay services, SMTP2Go offers several different plans depending on the number of emails you send each day. For a few bucks a month, you can send 50 emails a day; or you can jump up to the Freedom (150 messages/day) or Professional plans (300/day) and get discounted rates.
If you need to send more emails than that, AuthSMTP provides much more liberal message volumes. But SMTP2Go’s rather strict message limits is one of the reasons the service appeals to me: it’s clearly not designed to provide a launchpad for spammers, and its terms of service make this very clear.
[Note: I have an affiliate account with SMTP2Go, so I earn money from referrals. However, I never recommend any service or product which I don’t use myself, and I’ve been recommending this service for a couple of years now without being an affiliate.]