It’s hurry up and wait for wireless revolution

TORONTO — For those waiting for wireless technology to revolutionize work and social life, the message from some of Canada’s largest industry players is clear: don’t hold your breath.

Representatives from device, carrier and developer communities met Tuesday morning for a roundtable discussion

about the future of wireless technology. Canada does have a wireless future — and some of that has already come to pass — but there are still major impediments to widescale adoption in consumer and business circles, the panel indicated.

For one thing, Canadians don’t really utilize the mobile devices they already have. There are cultural barriers to the adoption of wireless, argued Doug Cooper, country manager for Intel Canada Ltd. The company has a big stake in the success of wireless, since 80 per cent of mobile devices have Intel flash memory devices inside. Commuters are carrying laptops home from the office, he said, but they aren’t making use of them on the train ride home. There needs to be a realization that anytime/anywhere access to data already exists to some degree.

Wireless adoption has also been hamstrung by the focus on the devices themselves rather than the content and services they might offer, said Stephen Jack, director of marketing business services for Rogers AT&T Wireless. People are still stuck on the Palm versus Pocket PC debate and need to be steered towards a discussion about applications. “”Then they go, ‘Ah, so not everybody needs the same device.’ The pace has actually picked up, so there is a quest for knowledge as to what to do,”” he said.

There was no agreement about what the next generation of wireless devices might look like: a PDA with phone capabilities, a phone with PDA qualities, or something new altogether.

Tony Davis, the CEO of Tira Wireless, which publishes certified mobile Java applications, pointed to devices in Asia and Europe — where adoption rates are as high as 90 per cent — as an indication of the future. “”Now we’re talking about 500 per cent penetration,”” he said. “”Everyone is carrying five devices, whether it is in their car or on their person.””

The form will follow the function, said Bohdan Zabawskij, head of production evolution at mobile application and infrastructure solution provider Redknee Inc. Eventually devices will need to display more feature-rich applications. One day multimedia messaging will replace SMS (short messaging service) and users will be sending pictures and short movies to each other, he said.

But SMS only represents a blip on the radar, as far as Rogers AT&T is concerned. “”We have three million customers on voice,”” said Jack. “”A fraction of that is using data services. It’s an emerging thing, it’s a coming thing.”” The devices of the future will be as diverse as their users’ needs, he added. “”It comes down to who you are and what you want to do. I’m what you call a nomadic manager. I need a BlackBerry in the worst way. I do not need a laptop with a Type 2 card . . . unless I’m on the road.””

Arguments about devices will become less and less relevant once the industry adopts standards like XML, SOAP and UDDI, said Cooper — once the device is recognized then tailored data can be pushed to that device and displayed properly.

The reason Canada hasn’t seen anything close to Asian and European wireless adoption rates is down to competing network standards, said Jack. Rogers AT&T runs on a GMS network, as does Fido carrier Microcell. Both Bell and Telus run on CDMA networks. The situation is even worse in the United States, he added, where networks are more patchwork and regulatory issues are still up in the air.

However, SMS usage by Canadians may be boosted by the ability to send messages between networks. At the Communications 2001 conference, held in Toronto last November, all four carriers promised to deliver interoperable short messaging regardless of which carrier a user subscribes to.

The growth of the J2ME (Java 2 Mobile Edition) developer community may also give Canadians reason to use their cell phones for something other than talking. “”What Java will enable you to do is turn your handset into a much more functional device, where you have graphics and more functionality for the user,”” said Jeremy Depow, analyst with Ottawa-based Yankee Group in Canada. “”I think . . . Java will certainly have a good impact on bringing more value out of the device. Right now you don’t have a whole lot of applications beyond text-based wireless Internet.””

“”There really have to be applications to drive investment,”” said Borland Canada president John Fisher. “”Borland’s best customers today are the device manufacturers.”” He noted that the company has sold its Java tools to companies like Nokia and Siemens, who then disperse them to their developer communities.

Java-based applications like games may prove to be a popular mobile pastime, he said, though admitted that they won’t be an overnight sensation. “”I think it’s more on the exploratory stage,”” he said. “”Over the next 12 months, I don’t see any radical changes.””

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