A WAR is being waged over the future of the humble letterbox, with high-tech joint venture Digital Post Australia attempting to get a jump on Australia Post.
Both are betting that Australians will shift from physical to digital mailboxes, which will allow users to receive and pay bills, communicate with service providers - such as banks, telcos, electricity networks and financial services firms - and store important documents such as passports and birth certificates.
They will be accessible anywhere in the world from PCs, tablets and smartphones, and support payments directly from the mailbox, with users automatically notified when they have new mail or their bills are overdue.
Digital Post Australia chief executive Randy Dean said email was not safe for billing and most businesses did not send important documents over email for security and privacy reasons. Therefore, those who want to interact with providers online need to have individual accounts and logins with many different sites. ''Everybody has email but their transactional mail is something they largely get on paper,'' said Mr Dean.
Both Australia Post and DPA claim state-of-the-art security, but security experts including consultant Nigel Phair warn that there are risks with keeping such sensitive documents in the one place.
Mr Phair said it would be a honeypot for identity thieves who could gain access using phishing attacks.
''This is the problem with putting all of your identity eggs in the one basket,'' he said.
DPA began allowing users to sign up and create their verified mailbox on Wednesday, but mail won't start flowing into it until early next year.
Australia Post was forced to suspend registrations for its Digital MailBox within days of it going online after discovering ''a technical issue'', but it is now back online, with a full launch also expected next year.
An Australia Post spokeswoman said the issue was not hacking related despite hacking being reported on other parts of its website around the same time.
Australia Post attempted to sue DPA claiming trademark and other infringements and is now appealing. Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour told a Senate estimates hearing in October that the outcome was ''a huge injustice''.
For Australia Post, its $2 billion digital transformation is seen as critical to the future of the business. ''We had a monopoly. We had a 100 per cent market share 20 years ago and today we have less than 1 per cent of the market share of all communication,'' Mr Fahour said.
''Where did the other 99 per cent go? It has gone to digital communication.''
DPA's Mr Dean is happy to stand in Mr Fahour's way. ''The internet history museum is filled with the fossils of many companies that not only did not thrive but did not survive the digital transformation of their businesses [including] Kodak, Borders books, Virgin Megastore and the like,'' he said.
Last month, Australia Post ''launched'' its service with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and revealed it was being supported by several large companies including Telstra, AMP, Westpac, ANZ, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Link Market Services, NAB and Yarra Valley Water.
Australia Post has also partnered with the Tax Office and the Department of Human Services, both of which are exploring how to use the service to communicate about government services.
What is a digital mailbox?
■More secure than email for important transactional mail.
■Australia Post and Digital Post Australia's offerings launching early next year.
■Supported by some banks, telcos, electricity networks and finance companies.
■Receive statements, pay bills and store important documents like passports.
■Works on all devices, anywhere in the world.
■Security experts warn it could be a honey pot for cyber criminals.