Many small business owners do not have the benefit of an IT staff responsible for maintaining an onsite email server. As such, this service is outsourced to any number of internet hosting providers (ISP). When working in your office, this does not present a problem as you are presumably connected to your ISP’s network either wired or wirelessly. When working outside of your network (in an airport, cafe/coffee shop providing wireless access, hotel, etc), you are at the mercy of that particular network. For casual browsing or personal email, this is not an issue as you can simply use the browser of your choice to surf the internet or log-on to your favorite webmail client. The problem occurs when you need to send a business-related email with your business domain (email@example.com).
Sending an email to a client for business reasons from a personal account is simply unprofessional and I would assume most legitimate businesses would frown upon. Unless you have a specific domain hosted through your ISP and you are using that web client, you will not be able to send your business domain email through a publically accessed wireless network. Many ISP’s SMTP servers (simple mail transfer protocol server, through which email is sent to another email host) are configured such that users cannot access the service outside their network. This is done for a variety of reasons, but mainly as a security measure, defending against hackers and spammers who could maliciously send thousands of emails to unsuspecting recipients and compromise the SMTP service performance. Receiving email through a service such as POP3 is generally not an issue, as this restriction is not in affect presuming you were appropriately authenticated. So what are the alternatives? If your organization does support an SMTP server and the appropriate technical resources, you can use a VPN (virtual private network) to securely connect through your business SMTP server through any publically-accessible wireless network.
The VPN infrastructure acts as a secure “tunnel” to your business network through the internet, allowing a remote user to conduct business at a public location as if she were connected to her local business network. Once you’ve installed the VPN client on your machine and the VPN is appropriately configured within your organization’s network, you simply start your VPN application and the email client you wish to use and you should be able to send email from a public access point just as you would from your office. The VPN acts as a secure tunnel through the internet to your organization’s network. Though this solution works quite well when implemented appropriately, it requires a substantial resource commitment to establish and maintain. The cost involved may not be feasible for the small business.
If you had access to an SMTP service that does not have the above-mentioned restriction, you should be able to send your business-related email using any email client that supports SMTP from anywhere with internet access. Fortunately, there are a number of services which allow users to send business emails where an internet connection is available. Using these services involve registering the email address you wish to use, selecting the level of service you require, and following the directions to configure your email client. The advantage of utilizing “SMTP as a service” is that the business traveler is not constrained to the public internet access point when sending business emails. The disadvantage is that the information being transmitted from your laptop may be transmitted in the clear and susceptible to information theft. VPN is the best solution for secure internet transactions.