Royal Mail and Microsoft have launched a new service to convert Email into snail mail.
Dubbed RelayOne, the service will allow Email to be sent by standard post to users without Email access. Users from anywhere in the world can post their Emails to a an MSN Web site (www.relayone.msn.com), from where it is transmitted to Royal Mail's Electronic Services Centre in London, to be printed and delivered to addresses anywhere in the world by either first class or airmail.
"This makes Britain the new gateway of the world's mail," Royal Mail boasted in a statement.
Pricing for the service ranges from #1.50 for a 32-line document within the UK to #10 for a 50 page document sent from anywhere in the world to the UK. Users can register free on the RelayOne Web site through any ISP and pay for their postage by credit card.
To post a first class letter within the UK costs 26p.
RelayOne is too expensive to take off outside expatriate communities, commented Jeff Mann, program manager with the Meta Group research firm.
"It may find a niche with British people living abroad, but I don't think that is a big market," he explained.
Royal Mail and Microsoft are jointly marketing the project and sharing the returns, but neither party would disclose the amount of the investment or the profit split.
Microsoft was chosen to run the programme for its Internet services, worldwide brand presence and ability to provide "unique" technology allowing mail to be printed from any file format, according to Jim Pang, director of electronic services with Royal Mail.
He refused to say which other companies had been considered to run the project, or whether other ISPs and on-line content providers would also be allowed to host the service in future.
Meta's Mann denied that Microsoft has technology that rivals do not, however.
Graham Taylor, senior vice president at analyst firm Inteco, expressed surprise at the choice of Microsoft to run the service. "I would have expected Royal Mail to go with a facilities management company such as IBM Global Network, or EDS, which do file conversion day in day out, professionally," he said.
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