Bell Mobility CEO sees games as killer wireless app

TORONTO — When Bell Mobility CEO Pierre Blouin addressed the Mississauga Board of Trade Tuesday, the economic outlook for most industries was as grim as the mid-October weather.

The exception was the wireless industry, said Blouin, about which he had nothing but good news to share.

“Things have slowed down in the global economy, especially after Sept.11,” he said. “But things could not be more different for the wireless industry. We’re still experiencing fast growth — about 20 per cent per year — high job creation and large capital investment.”

Blouin, whose speech seemed to highlight his company’s quest to wrest a bigger share of the consumer market away from mostly consumer-oriented wireless providers Microcell and Telus, noted that the Canadian wireless industry has poured some $12 billion in investments in wireless infrastructure since 1990. This includes roughly $3.3 billion this year alone.

Some 25,000 Canadians work in the industry, one of every three Canadians owns a wireless device of some sort, 94 per cent of Canadians have some wireless service available to them, and there are now more than 10 million wireless customers in this country, he said.

And those numbers are only going to improve, he added. Driving the demand — apart from the traditional business user that Bell Mobility is often associated with — is the increasingly lucrative youth market, said Blouin.

Canadians between the ages of 14 and 24 are the fastest-growing segment of our population under 50. More importantly, they have the cash to spend — from $4,500-$7,000 in disposable income per year, according to studies, he said — and a predisposition towards spending on wireless. “As they get older, they will be wireless,” he noted.

That, in itself, is not exactly news, perhaps, as more Canadian teens see cell phones as simply part of their birthright.

Perhaps more interesting is that while e-mail and stock quotes were initially the big drawing cards for business users, there’s another application that’s taken the suits by storm, he reported: games.

‘Now, nobody even wants to look at their stocks,” Blouin said. “Games are now it.”

In fact, customers are playing eight million games a month using Bell Mobility services — no advertising needed.

The company’s focus in the future, however, will be on wearable computers and launching the first phase of its 3G network, which it had announced earlier would be out in the fourth quarter. Blouin, who could not give an exact date, told CN it would be out “very soon.”

The always-on network will allow the beginnings of full-motion video, letting busy executives to play high-resolution games rather than being confined to boring black and white ping-pong.

There are, of course, other more practical reasons for business users to look forward to the first phase of 3G, he added — namely access to enterprise applications such as those from SAP.

Again, though, Blouin focused on a growing area of interest for Bell Mobility — the education market.

“We know that between school and part-time jobs, students today have more demands than ever before,’ he said. “So Bell Mobility is working to offer students wireless access to curriculum materials including textbooks and assignments.”

Although 3G is a major focus for the wireless industry, the events of Sept. 11 in the U.S. and the reports of cell phone overloads have prompted questions as to how our own wireless networks would fare should Canada experience a major emergency on a similar scale.

Recent news stories from U.S. publications report that the federal government is looking at forcing wireless providers to provide emergency services workers with special priority access codes that would ensure their calls go through before anyone else’s.

According to Blouin, we have nothing to fear, at least from communications failures on the wireless side. That’s because our emergency services use radio dispatch (mostly provided by Bell Mobility) rather than cellular.

“They (emergency services) have their private network and it cannot really get full unless it was a huge event,” he told CN.

When the Summit of the Americas was held in Quebec City earlier this year, there was a huge volume of traffic on both the cellular and emergency services radio networks with no problems, he said.

“The network is already quite strong in Canada because of the way the population density is,” said Blouin. “We have a bit of space on the network to handle much bigger call volume, and secondly, we’re able very quickly to dispatch portable-type equipment to increase that quite a bit.

“And on the radio side, there’s enough capacity, they have their own private (network) and it cannot be jammed by any other type of usage.”

Bell Mobility, like other wireless service providers, is also conducting trials for its emergency 911 cellular service, which would allow it to see where a user is calling from.

“We’re working on trying to get it out by the end of next year.”

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