The Mobility Express

DAY 1:

3:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 25

I’m sitting at the Epic lounge of the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto with three people who, in one way or another, are helping to spearhead the wireless revolution.

Laura Mergelas, an account manager for Palm Canada Inc.


Toronto-based Environics Communications, scribbles “”Hi”” on her Palm and beams the message to my handheld from across the table.

I take an e-pic of Mike Taylor, 27-year-old manager of public relations at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, with my Palm Zire 71 and beam it to Laura.

“”Oh, no,”” says Mike. “”I look terrible in that picture.””

Whatever. The point is it worked. I’m impressed with what this Palm can do. It’s a small taste of things to come.

Over the next few days I will test three pieces of wireless hardware on a rail trip from Toronto to Montreal — a Fujitsu Lifebook powered by Intel’s Centrino mobile chip, and two Palm handhelds, a Tungsten C and Zire 71.)

A lot has been made out of the wireless revolution — powered by what are alternatively known as WLANs (wireless local area networks) and WiFi (wireless fidelity) hot spots, public access nodes to the Internet.

But what does it really mean? Is it all hype, a pretext to make consumers and businesses shell out oodles of money for toys they do not need? Or is there genuine business value in all this?

Whatever the answer turns out to be, one thing is certain: the WiFi industry is in its infancy. Consider that IDC Canada estimates by the end of 2003 this country will have 450 commercial hot spots generating revenues of $1.3 million. That figure is expected to ramp up to $64.3 million by 2007, but that still constitutes a niche market.

Before leaving the Royal York, whose lobby is a hot spot, I test my laptop and Tungsten C. James Carey, the hotel’s systems manager, helps me out. The laptop takes me straight to the Web, but I have reception problems with the handheld. And pounding out a Web address with a swizzle stick on a keyboard made for Barbie is next to impossible.

5:05 p.m.

Minutes after leaving Union Station aboard Via 1, I fire up my laptop and cross my fingers. Since July 2003, the first-class car on the Toronto-Montreal corridor has been turned into a rolling hot spot thanks to a partnership between Via Rail, Bell Canada and PointShot, a company that developed the onboard wireless solution.

During the first four months of this pilot the service is free, in part because Bell Canada has not figured out how much it should charge passengers.

Bell-AccessZone automatically appears in my wireless LAN window. I click on the icon, and I am immediately connected to DataValet, a Web site designed for Via Rail passengers. I’m online, with access to breaking news (J.Lo and Ben Seek Gun Permit in Georgia), weather reports (16C at Pearson), sports scores and much more. I can check out Toronto bars, restaurants and galleries, shop online, or cruise Lavalife for an intimate encounter.

I decide to access my Hotmail account, and send an e-mail.

To: James Carey

From: E.H.

Hi James,

Thanks for showing me the ropes earlier today. I’m aboard Via right now. Bell’s WiFi system works like a charm.


6:10 p.m.

After dinner I switch on the Tungsten C. I am able to access Yahoo Mobile, where I am told a second federal judge in the U.S. has blocked the no-call registry. However, after repeated attempts I am unable to access my Hotmail, or the DataValet Web site. Somehow pops up, but the only link that appears to work is the one to the Toronto Transit Commission, explaining recent service changes at the TTC.

8:10 p.m.

I order a cognac from the Via attendant and fire up my Zire 71 to play a few pre-loaded MP3 tracks over head phones. (In theory I could download a selection of tracks from the Web with my laptop, then HotSync them with my Zire 71.)

The sound is a bit tinny, but it will do as I count down the minutes to Montreal.


5:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 26

The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, on Rene Levesque Boulevard in the heart of Montreal’s commercial district, recently underwent a $40-million renovation. It now has two hot spots — one in the lobby, and another in the 19th floor Fairmont Gold lounge, which is where I park myself since it is just down the hall from my room.

As soon as I power up my laptop I am asked whether I want Internet access. I click yes, and find myself at

I decide to check out what it has to say about Montreal’s night life. The list of the Top 10 bars and restaurants includes Globe on Blvd. St-Laurent.

The Web site tells me Globe is 1.5 km from the hotel, and that is the “”ultimate in people-watching and chic dining.”” OK, that will be my first stop for the night.

My Hotmail account has a new message.

From: Mike Taylor

To: E.H.

Hi E.

I hope you are enjoying a wireless weekend at the Queen E.


I walk over to the window and take an e-pic of Marie-Reine-du-Monde, one of Montreal’s most impressive cathedrals, with my Zire 71. I HotSync it with my laptop, and attach it to my reply.

Finally I scribble a message on my Zire 71: “”Is anybody out there?”” Nobody in the lounge is receiving.

Reluctantly, I give my Tungsten C handheld a whirl. It finds the WiFi network, but I am unable to establish a connection. My conclusion is that this piece of hardware is just not ready for prime time.


3:40 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 27

I have seen the future, and it is wireless, I decide as I pull out of Montreal’s train station aboard Via 1.

There is just no arguing with the fact that WiFi technology will shake up the world. Hot spots may be replaced by roving coverage similar to that available to cell phones, but there is no debating the virtues of the wireless Internet for all types of users.

If combined effectively with Internet telephony, digital cameras and video recorders, it has the potential to push multi-media — indeed human interaction as we know it — into an entirely new realm.

Consider, for example, holding a video conference over the Internet with your North American sales force, or streaming live video of your trip to Europe to a group of friends.

The wireless Internet makes it possible to be online anywhere, anytime you want — and that is the shape of things to come.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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