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A Survivor’s Guide

Wireless companies are refocusing on profitable growth: What are the opportunities?

March 1, 2003  

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Shareholders and lenders are nervous now. They are no longer content to wait for the money train to arrive at the station at some unknown time in the future.

Large conferences and trade shows require a lot of advance planning, so it’s no surprise that when the telecommunications market started to falter, it took a while for these exhibitions to catch up to reality.

One of Canada’s main communications industry showcases caught up last year. Expo-Comm Canada Communications 2002 is the wireless industry’s main event, and last year’s version — held in Toronto in November — was a smaller, more sober gathering than in years past.

In many ways, however, this was a more interesting — and more useful — show. The wireless industry spent less time than usual patting itself on the back for a job well done, and more time discussing the issues that companies must address if they’re to survive and prosper in the long-term.

As this issue of Cabling Systems magazine reaches subscribers’ desks, companies will have already reviewed their performance in 2002 and established goals and budgets for 2003 and beyond. So while the conference is a few months old, it’s worth taking a look back and reviewing some of the lessons that were shared by delegates.

Refocus on profitable growth: The need to refocus on profitable growth was a recurring theme at the conference. Since cellular phones were introduced to Canadians in the mid-1980s, service providers have been driven by growth at any cost. Under this business model the company with the greatest number of subscribers wins in the long run: The argument is that the more subscribers a company has, the more features and special services it can sell in the future.

But shareholders and lenders are nervous now, and are no longer content to wait for the money train to arrive at the station at some unknown time in the future. They’re looking for returns now, and wireless companies are changing their strategies in order to woo corporate and personal accounts that provide higher rates of return for the company’s investment.

This is an issue for every company in the sector; it’s as critical for the large established wireless phone companies as it is for small start-ups building wireless data networks or creating wireless applications and services.

Turning to large corporations: Identifying those high-value opportunities is key and one place wireless companies will be looking is large corporations. One speaker at the conference — a long-time observer of the telecom industry — argued that wireless companies have done a poor job selling to large corporate customers.

The issues appear to be centred on billing and customer service. These accounts are used to having suppliers bend over backwards to accommodate them and — so this observer noted — for the wireless industry that means abandoning the “one phone at a time” sales and billing model and developing packages of airtime, customized services, and personalized support, tailor-made for each corporate customer.

Large corporate customers will be in the driver’s seat, and should start thinking now about what they want from wireless voice and data services. The sooner they make their needs known to the wireless industry, the sooner those needs will be satisfied.

Wireless LANs: Building owners and property managers have some thinking to do, too. Regardless of whether a large corporate customer owns its facility or leases space, it will demand exceptional indoor and campus coverage.

Now is the time to assess coverage issues, and work with all wireless companies to fill the holes. The savvy facilities manager will explore the feasibility of installing wireless local area network systems that will seamlessly interconnect with public wireless networks. As wireless data use grows, the flexibility and cost savings provided by a “home” network will be of greater interest to large corporate users.

Sure, it’s a tough financial environment. But there are still a lot of opportunities out there for companies that are prepared to do some spadework and take some chances.CS

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

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