None of the De-mail providers exhibiting at Cebit would say exactly how much they planned to charge for the service, although none of them expect the cost to exceed that of a paper letter, currently €0.55 ($0.75) in Germany. But even at that price, De-mail senders would save by eliminating the cost of paper and printing -- or at least passing it on to recipients wishing to keep a physical copy of a document.
The secure nature of De-mail will allow banks and utilities to push out monthly statements or bills electronically, rather than on paper.
Customers can obtain the same documents from the websites of those organizations today, "but it's a pull process, they have to log in and download all this information," said Jens Mayer, De-mail project leader at Deutsche Telekom.
With De-mail, they'll be able to log in to a single site or service, the same one they use every day, to access bills and statements.
Deutsche Telekom's plan is that De-mail will be just another tab in the webmail interface for customers of its ISP subsidiary, T-Online: "Our philosophy is that De-mail should be as easy as email," Mayer said.
Mentana Claimsoft, meanwhile, wants businesses and government organizations to use their existing Outlook clients and Exchange servers. The company has developed an Outlook plugin to flag authenticated incoming messages with a De-mail icon. Outgoing De-mail messages can go through Exchange too: Mentana Claimsoft will operate secure gateways into the De-mail system, although its customers will remain responsible for the authentication of their users and the security of their internal networks, said Nils Kiehne, an account manager and consultant with Mentana Claimsoft's GovMail division.
For now, De-mail usage will be restricted to German residents and businesses, but other countries could get involved. European Union competition laws require that Germany allow service providers from elsewhere in the E.U. to offer De-mail. And the legal frameworks for similar services elsewhere are starting to appear: only last month, France passed a law defining the technical framework for electronic registered mail.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at email@example.com.