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A Tradition of Innovation

As the federal government considers how to encourage a culture of innovation across all sectors of the Canadian economy, the wireless industry has learned some valuable lessons it can share.


November 1, 2002  


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Earlier this year, the federal government launched Canada’s Innovation Strategy, a focused effort to encourage all sectors of the Canadian economy to be more innovative. The strategy is explained in two companion documents: Achieving Excellence: Investing in People, Knowledge and Opportunity, and Knowledge Matters: Skills and Learning for Canadians.

These papers present Ottawa’s view of the state of innovation in this country and provide a mechanism by which Canadians in all sectors can establish innovation, skills and education-related goals and targets.

FEEDBACK WANTED

The federal government is also curious to get feedback from interested parties as they develop these goals, in particular on ways in which government can assist in the creation of an environment that encourages innovation in Canada.

While a culture of innovation may be a new concept in many other sectors of the economy, there’s no doubt this culture is firmly entrenched in the wireless space – and indeed throughout what’s known as the Information and Communications Technology sector.

Canadian wireless companies (including network operators, service providers, equipment and device manufacturers, applications developers and others) have made significant investments in research and development.

This has been conducted in-house, by government and independent labs, by subcontractors, and through direct and indirect support of R&D at universities, colleges and other institutions.

What’s more, larger wireless companies routinely provide financial and other forms of support to smaller, early stage ventures in Canada developing new wireless technology, products and services.

LESSONS LEARNED

But documenting the innovation within the sector is just the tip of the iceberg. In the 2002 edition of A Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada (Gazette Notice DGTP-004-02), Industry Canada acknowledged “The tele- communications industry’s impact on the Canadian economy goes beyond the revenues and employment generated by the industry itself.

“Telecommunications, including wireless services, provides a critical infrastructure for knowledge-based and other economic sectors, which has an enormous ‘enabling’ impact on the rest of the economy.”

As the wireless industry has grown and matured in a competitive environment, some important lessons have been learned about innovation that can be applied to all sectors of the economy

For starters, the market has an excellent track record for finding new applications for innovative products and services.

REWARDS CAN BE HIGH

These applications can sometimes be surprising: A few years ago, a mobile phone company in the United Kingdom was forced to abandon a short-lived pricing strategy of unlimited talk time in the evening when its network was overloaded every night.

The culprit? Parents were buying two mobile phones and using them as baby monitors.

As this example illustrates, not every innovative idea will be successful. But it’s important to resist the temptation to try to prescribe the form that innovation takes. A wide range of opportunities to innovate will result in a wide range of innovative results;

There are great financial and social rewards for facilitating R&D and other innovation in key enabling sectors of the economy, such as wireless.

Government policy can help by establishing an environment that frees up more resources to dedicate to investment in innovation.

The federal government itself can be a key enabler of innovation, for example, by helping Canadian wireless companies export their products, services and knowledge to global markets.

The Innovation Strategy consultation process is an example of how the Government of Canada can support innovation: the very exchange of information and knowledge from sectors that have a culture of innovation to those where it is less developed will improve the innovation culture for everyone.

Companies in all sectors — those that have a tradition of innovation, and those just developing one – should get involved. Canada’s innovation strategy can be found online at www.innovationstrategy.gc.caCS

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached at 416-878-7730 or tpmarshall@eol.ca.


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