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* Octanewave Software Inc. is in the midst of its 60-day Wireless Challenge.

In an effort to promote mobile software to prospective customers, the Toronto-based vendor will design at no cost a custom mobile solution within 60 days. Octanewave said customers can walk away from the project if

they’re not happy with the outcome.

A company executive said corporate cynicism towards IT motivated the offer.

“”All of my customers that I talk to, they refer to that as far as saying, ‘Our investments over the last little while have not been that stellar in IT,'”” explained Dan Nelson, Octanewave’s director of business development.

“”Some of them have hit home runs, but I would say that the majority of them are questioning their earlier business cases.””

Although Nelson said he believes companies aren’t necessarily skeptical about mobile solutions, they are questioning whether they should be early adopters.

In particular, he said, software installations related to customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning have failed to deliver promised returns on investment.

He said he usually tells Octanewave’s wireless clients they can expect a payback on their investment after less than a year, or sometimes after six months.

A 60-day implementation needs the support of someone on the customer’s management team, Nelson said. Octanewave maps out a project plan, including a needs analysis, which takes about five days, and “”a business requirements definition,”” explained Nelson.

Roberta Fox, president and senior partner of Fox Group Consulting, said Octanewave’s decision to secure support from company managers “”handles all the politics.””

Senior executives she works with tend to be “”pretty risk-averse”” about technology, she added. She described the company’s approach as “”creative,”” but added she’s still skeptical it can deliver within 60 days.

—Fawzia Sheikh

* Wireless technology will help deliver broadband Internet access to an area of Ontario surrounding North Bay, thanks to a $1-million Broadband for Rural and Northern Development (BRAND) grant from Industry Canada. The Blue Sky Region Community Network, a regional network of community access project (CAP) sites, applied for and won a BRAND grant for broadband access projects. It has turned the project over to an affiliate, Blue Sky Economic Growth Corp., whose Blue Sky Net unit will oversee its development, said Jeff Buell, project co-ordinator at Blue Sky Net.

A three-company partnership that has received several contracts for BRAND-backed projects has been awarded a contract for the project. Brian Walters, president and chief executive of W3 Connex Inc., said his company has optical fibre backbones that will carry Internet traffic from the Blue Sky network to a gateway in Toronto. The backbones will interconnect with a wireless network owned by W3 Connex, which will use point-to-point wireless technology from DragonWave Inc., also based in Ottawa.

A third partner, Toronto-based mmwave Technologies Inc., will acquire the technology and provide engineering services to construct and run the network, Walters said.

Peter Allen, chief executive of DragonWave, said his company’s wireless technology works in the 18- to 26- GHz frequency range, most of which is licensed. Requiring a clear line of sight between transceivers, it can provide bandwidth of as much as 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or be broken down to units of as little as 10 Mbps for customers who require smaller capacity, he said.

To connect users to the network, W3 Connex will use point-to-multipoint wireless technology supplied by Tel Aviv-based Alvarion Ltd. Walters said the DragonWave equipment could also be used to provide high-speed links directly to large users, such as schools and hospitals.

The first phase, which will require about 25 towers, will cover about 16,000 sq. km., Buell said, but will be built as five subnets. The first subnet, east of North Bay, will cover about 2,000 sq. km.

At press time, six towers were being built. Blue Sky Net hopes its first pilot customers will be up and running by year-end. “”We should have it fully implemented by the April time frame,”” Walters said.

—Grant Buckler

* A telecom executive predicts the wireless industry will roll out products combining cellular and Wi-Fi over the next year, while an industry group recommends manufacturers add more user input methods, such as speech recognition, to wireless devices.

Instead of building every product and feature in “”one monolithic approach,”” the Wireless World Research Forum (WWRF) prefers to create flexible “”building blocks,”” said the group’s vice-chair for the Americas, Miguel Pellon.

Pellon, who is also Motorola Inc.’s vice-president and director of standards and technology transfer, said the WWRF provides a “”missing piece”” in the wireless industry, in which carriers, manufacturers, universities, research centres and others were unable to meet and plan for future products and strategies.

Looking back to the sector’s evolution from the second to third generation, Pellon said, the telecommunications industry focused on technology to the detriment of products that could improves customers’ lives.

Professor Angela Sasse of University College London, which chairs the working group on human perspective and service concepts, said key values of people interacting with technology include consistent behaviour of devices and services, personal control of data and privacy.

The WWRF proposes simplifying use of wireless products by “”broadening the range of interaction styles,”” including speech recognition, so customers can choose the shortest route to achieving their goals, Sasse explained.

The challenges facing the future of wireless can be divided into several categories: users and groups; devices; services; and systems and access networks, said Mikko A. Uusitalo, manager of research co-operation at Nokia and vice-chair of WWRF (Europe).

Obstacles to wireless services include providing seamless service regardless of the location of the user and supporting innovative applications such as mobile multimedia, he said. He added another problem is finding seamless and secure access across any network.

—Fawzia Sheikh

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