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Peter Barnes, Unplugged

Is wireless technology going to replace its hard-wired counterpart? Should structured cabling professionals start updating their rsums?Armed with these, and a few other concerns of today's telecom t...

February 1, 2001  

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Is wireless technology going to replace its hard-wired counterpart? Should structured cabling professionals start updating their rsums?

Armed with these, and a few other concerns of today’s telecom types, I phone Peter Barnes, the president and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA). But the soft-spoken Mr. Barnes, 51, takes it all in stride. He is relaxed, jovial — and gearing up to go on a family ski trip.

Skiing? Doesn’t he know there’s a wireless “revolution” going on?

Well of course he knows. As the man in the helm of the CWTA — the industry association which acts on behalf of the wireless communications industry in Canada — it is his job to know. And, in an industry that changes so rapidly, that can be quite a task.

“The item that characterizes the industry is very rapid growth, and of course that means very rapid change,” says Mr. Barnes, who notes that the industry is growing at anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent a year. “So the real challenge is to remain ahead of the wave, because the last thing you want, for an industry, is to be dragged down by an association that is not right out there at the edge.”

A long career

Keeping the association relevant as technologies, markets and infrastructures change, and managing its’ interests with all levels of government and with private sector organizations, is certainly a big job. But this job is the apex of a long career in the telecom industry for Mr. Barnes, who started out in 1969 with his first job as a customer service representative at Bell. Since that time, he has held a variety of progressively senior positions in the private and public sector, including VP of Public Affairs with AT&T Canada Enterprises and VP of Government and Regulatory Affairs with Mobility Canada.

Taking the job at the CWTA was a way to put all of his knowledge to work in a different, and very important, direction. “The real need is there for a united voice that can explain the industry in a broad context,” says Mr. Barnes.

The view from here

With such a bird’s-eye view of the industry, Mr. Barnes is in a good position to analyze the goings-on. He is also able to separate the facts from the hype.

“There are certainly a lot of services being developed, whether its advanced messaging or new applications for mobile phones or mobile satellite services,” says Barnes, “and there’s always a tension there between what the market is looking for, the expectations, and what’s actually delivered and the time that it’s delivered. That is continually the case as we have changing technology.”

But he notes that the growth rates we’ve seen so far can be backed up with cold, hard facts. “I think there’s probably general agreement as to how far we have come because you can see what’s out there in the market. The financials, the market figures, the growth — they are real. Just to give you an idea of the growth of the market, it took seven years to get the first million cellular customers in Canada. In the last seven months, we grew another million.”

And things just keep moving forward. “I think the big change is going to be the introduction of third-generation digital technologies.” He says. “These are going to speed up the delivery of wireless services and I think they are going to open up a whole new ability to deliver new services.”

While he notes that the speed of Internet access on a wireless device today (without video and graphics) is in the order of 14.4 kilobits — which is quite slow compared to today’s high-speed cable modems or DSL technologies — the advent of third generation technologies are going to make vast speed improvements. This will mean, says Barnes, 144-kilobit speeds for vehicular applications, and up to two megabit speeds for stationary applications.

Wired technologies

Yet, while wireless technologies are growing in leaps and bounds, we don’t seem to be in any danger of it replacing wired technologies any time soon. In fact, Mr. Barnes believes the two technologies have a long and prosperous future together. “I think its going to be a complementary coexistence,” he says, “because wireless and physical cables provide somewhat different benefits to customers.”

“But I think that there will always be tradeoffs, and what we are seeing in the marketplace through our members who are involved in many of the high-speed applications is that there is an optimal choice that has to be made in any given application, and sometimes its wired and sometimes its wireless. But I think its just another tool to make sure the customer gets what they need, from a time and cost and liability perspective.”

Enjoying downtime

Of course all is not wireless technologies for Mr. Barnes, who admits to having “a gazillion personal interests.” When not contemplating 3G devices and the Internet, he relaxes by golfing, running, cycling and cooking. He is also an avid traveller.

“I’m a big fan of mountains and certainly enjoy travelling to areas with mountains and skiing down them or hiking up them or skiing across the valleys.”

But does he take his cell phone on vacation? And will better speeds and newer technologies mean his staff will be able to more easily call him while he’s skiing in the mountains?

How good does he really want wireless to get?CS

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