TORONTO — Bell Mobility took the wraps off its 1XRTT, or 1X, service Tuesday, making it available in the Greater Toronto Area over the company’s CDMA network.
Ottawa and Montreal will follow this spring, followed by the
rest of Ontario and Quebec. Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria will be connected this summer and fall, thanks to Bell’s agreement to share CDMA networks with Telus Mobility, whose stronghold is in western Canada.
“”By the end of 2002, we will cover 90 per cent of Bell’s digital footprint,”” said Charlotte Burke, Bell Canada’s senior vice-president of convergence.
By adding 1X to its existing CDMA 2000 network, Bell has effectively doubled its voice capability, but wireless Internet and data will be the service’s killer application, said Bell Mobility CEO Pierre Blouin.
In 2001, Bell Mobility added one million new customers for a total of four million. “”More than 800,000 subscribers are now using our wireless Internet service,”” said Blouin. The company’s wireless Web hits grew from 40 million to almost 200 million last year, and the addition of 1X to Bell’s infrastructure will allow for a cruising speed of 86 kbps up to a possible 144 kbps, depending on the application, said Blouin.
Blouin compared the experience of moving from vanilla CDMA to 1X to that of moving from a black and white television to colour. Business users will be the primary adopters of 1X technology, he said. Bell Mobility has signed on with multiple software and ASP partners like IBM Lotus, Siebel Systems and Oracle to allow for mobile enterprise applications over 1X.
Oracle Canada business development manager Bill Kovessy said that mobile Oracle applications like field sales, customer intelligence and supply chain management are effectively platform-agnostic and will run over other carrier services like GPRS over GMS, but acknowledged that Bell has become a leader in the business market.
Blouin predicts 1X’s largest initial revenues will come from business users. “”Large business customers should be the first ones to jump in,”” he said.
Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility, both of which offer CDMA service, have virtually cornered the wireless business market, said Gartner Canada telecommunications analyst Elroy Jopling. “”They’re going to have a natural advantage when it comes to dealing with business, just because that’s something they do as a mainstream business,”” he said. “”Rogers AT&T Wireless and Microcell (which operate GSM networks), they don’t have those extra capabilities. I think you may see more business going towards Bell’s and Telus’ technology.””
Bell’s 1X was beta-tested with corporations like Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Manulife, Ford, the City of Toronto and Xerox, along with more than 100 of Bell Mobility’s consumer customers.
Consumers — particularly the growing youth sector — may prove a strong 1X market over time, said Blouin, buoyed by the popularity of mobile gaming and downloadable ringtones and screensavers. “”Games are driving over half of our total mobile browser traffic. Technology can barely keep up with the demands of this (youth) group,”” said Burke, who added that 1X phones could be a “”next generation Gameboy.””
The service can also be used as a “”wireless wallet”” for things like paying for pizza delivery and cab fares. Bell’s location-based services will be deployed this summer, starting with E911 to help emergency crews locate callers.
Blouin dismissed criticism that Bell has backed the wrong horse by sticking to its CDMA backbone for 1X. “”Clearly in Europe GSM is the standard. Over the rest of the world in the past year, the picture in terms of CDMA has changed quite a bit,”” he said. “”Now China has moved to CDMA and has got the largest wireless market in the last year.””
The first 1X phone will be available from Kyocera before the end of the month for $179 and Bell has just completed testing for a Samsung 1X phone, which will sell for $199. A “”dashboard kit”” to attach a phone to a laptop will be available for $120 and a 1X Sierra Wireless AirCard for laptops and PDAs will ship in March. A 1X-ready browser will be available for $5 unlimited usage until September, while downloadables like ringtones will cost $1.50 each.