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Wireless carriers join forces at Communications

Communications 2001 lived up to its billing as a showcase event that would "break new ground" last month in Toronto when Canada's major wireless carriers announced a major cross-carrier initiative des...


January 1, 2002  


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Communications 2001 lived up to its billing as a showcase event that would “break new ground” last month in Toronto when Canada’s major wireless carriers announced a major cross-carrier initiative designed to help kick-start the growing world of telecom convergence.

The announcement, a North American first, saw Bell Mobility, Microcell Connexions, Rogers AT&T Wireless and Telus Mobility join forces to develop a service that will enable inter-carrier, mobile text messaging for digital wireless customers. CMG Wireless Data Solutions will provide the technology for the short message service (SMS).

Many wireless phones sold today in Canada have the capability to send and receive SMS-based messages, but until now, the service had had limited appeal because of the fact that only customers on the same network could communicate with each other.

In two years, the number of SMS messages sent worldwide has grown from one billion messages a month to more than 16 billion. “The explosive growth of SMS seen in Europe has been limited in North America largely due to technology barriers,” said Mark Quigley, research director for Yankee Group Canada. “In the past, mobile-to-mobile SMS messages were restricted by incompatible technologies in use by the independent cellular operations.”

The announcement, he said, will open the door to the development of new text-based mobile notification and communication services for the Canadian wireless market.

The four carriers have signed an agreement with CMG to use its Inter-SMSC Router (ISR) service to manage the SMS cross-carrier traffic. The service is expected to bridge all the leading mobile network technologies, including CDMA, GSM, iDEN and TDMa.

FOCUS ON CONVERGENCE

The convergence theme that permeated the meeting rooms and the exhibit hall located in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was a first for the annual conference organized by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA). Instead of concentrating solely on the wireless industry, the CWTA was also able to attract what John Sheridan, president of Bell Canada and show chairman, described as “our partners across the information technology spectrum.”

In the spirit of convergence, the CWTA teamed up with the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), both of which were co-organizers of the event.

“It’s encouraging that we have all taken the time to converge and to explore convergence,” Sheridan said in his opening day keynote speech. “We know that by coming together, our individual strengths are multiplied exponentially.”

He also referenced the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, saying that while its impacts are too profound to be ignored, in the aftermath there were positive lessons to be learned for the wireless industry. “In crisis, people used our communications technologies to reach out and connect in critical ways at critical times. And it was through wireless connections that information was conveyed that turned ordinary people into extraordinary heroes.”

On the economic front, Sheridan said that the wireless industry, which currently employs an estimated 25,000 Canadians, can be a catalyst for recovery by being committed to driving growth. The good news, he added, is that unlike many sectors that today are “focused on retrenchment,” the wireless communications industry is synonymous with growth.

That optimism is backed up by a recent report from the Boston Consulting Group, which estimated that the value of Canada’s data communications market will more than double in the next three years. In addition, the Gartner Group predicts that by 2007, as many as 60 per cent of North Americans and Europeans up to the age of 50, will be carrying some sort of wireless device around with them for at least six hours a day.

FACING THE CHALLENGES

The bad news is that daunting challenges exist, such as having to invest astutely given “concerns about the capital intensity of our industry,” and dealing with the comparative disadvantages of a small and dispersed domestic market.

“Success will be dependent on many factors, but fundamentally, it will come down to leadership,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan’s keynote speech was a pre-cursor to a session entitled, The Wireless Industry States Its Case, where the CEOs of Rogers AT&T Wireless, Telus Mobility, Microcell PCS and Bell Mobility, talked about both the opportunities and challenges going forward. For Nadir Mohamed, head of Rogers AT&T Wireless, all roads lead to data: “We’re about ready to change from being fundamentally a voice drive business to a data-driven business. With this continuity, there’s opportunity,” he said.

“The reality today is that Canadian market pricing is one of the lowest anywhere in the world. As an industry, one of the things that we have to look at is how do we get value back into the pricing equation? As we embrace the data world and the data services that unfold, how do we actively look at moving away from voice, which today is seen as a commodity market, to a value-based service set that resets the pricing and financial model for the industry?”

George Cope, president and CEO of Telus Mobility, said innovative services and rate plans will drive up wireless penetration in Canada.

“In the context of the economy today and world events, we are fortunate to be part of the fastest growing industry in the world,” he said. “It’s an industry this year that on $5.5 billion of revenue, is going to grow by 20 per cent.”

Telus used the show to announce plans to offer a national high-speed 3G service in early 2002. Based on the CDMA2000 1XRTT standard, which offers data speeds of up to 144 kpbs, the service will enable clients to access the Internet or download e-mail at speeds up to 10 times faster than the existing standard.


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