A WIRELESS WORLD
By Jean-Guy Rens
Parrtners in telecommunications,
Vol. 3, No 3, June 1995,
Magazine for Bell Employees in Quebec
The Canadian cellular market is a duopoly run by Mobility Canada and Cantel. The former, made up of telco subsidiaries, enjoys a clear advantage over its competitor with a market share of 56 percent. And in Québec and Ontario, Bell Mobility (the largest member of Mobility Canada) is running neck and neck with Cantel, leading slightly in Québec but trailing slightly in Ontario.
The result of this competition is exceptional cellular coverage, making the technology accessible to over 85 percent of Canadians. Not only are cities covered, but so are all the major highways. Despite its difficult geography, Canada has one of the highest cellular penetration rates in the world.
Early or Late Start: Which is Better?
In December 1983, when the federal government granted Cantel permission to compete with the telephone companies in the cellular market, many people talked of bureaucratic foot-dragging. The United States, after all, had chosen its cellular companies a year earlier.
Not only was the government slow off the blocks, but it then set the startup date for both networks at July 1985, in order to let Cantel prepare. The result: Canada's cellular industry today has a national structure, whereas the model south of the border is a patchwork.
The personal communications market, however, is a completely different story. As if making up for lost time, the federal government legislated standards in May 1992, well before the Americans. This technology works on the same principle as cellular, except that the cells are smaller.
Did the federal government's quick decision give the Canadian industry a strategic advantage? Not at all. By the end of 1993, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had set aside a huge portion of the 1.8 GHz spectrum for personal communications. In comparison, the Canadian standard allotted a narrow range in the 944 MHz band. Moreover, the American choice was based on Europe's GSM (Global System for Mobile) communications standard, making GSM the de facto world standard.
Finding itself isolated, Canada was left with no choice but to realign its standard with that of the United States and the rest of the world. The federal government will soon be issuing the new rules of the game. Naturally, Mobility Canada and Cantel are in the running. But what will become of the other two companies that had obtained a license in the 944 MHz band (Telezone and Popfone, now called Microcell 1-2-1)?
Several other companies are also interested in entering the personal communications market, but it's doubtful that Canada can support four or five parallel networks.
Pagers Get a New Lease on Life
Launched 40 years ago, Canada's paging industry now has some 700,000 units. This represents a penetration rate of 2.5 percent, compared with the American rate of 6 percent. Some observers attribute the difference to the fact that Canadian players were late in moving from rental to outright sales of pagers.
In the United States and Asian countries such as Japan and Hong Kong, there has already been a revolution in the pager market: two-way terminals have been available for years, and now come in a host of futuristic designs and colors-even fluorescent! But Canada is quickly catching up: last year, Bell Mobility Ardis launched its first two-way pager, which lets users receive messages of up to 2,000 characters and respond with short, preprogrammed messages.
The units have proven so popular that some college students are even using them to exchange love notes! Sports fans have also created a specialized service that flashes the latest scores on the pager's screen in real time. Clearly, this unassuming little device is fast becoming a necessity for modern-day nomads.
No matter how extensive it may be, a cellular or pager network cannot cover the entire surface of a country like Canada; satellites are the only way to reach outlying areas. Like the other two sectors, the satellite communications market is in full flight: in April 1995 alone, the MSAT satellite and the first two ORBCOMM satellites were launched.
In September, MSAT will begin providing telephone, facsimile and data transmission services throughout North America. MSAT is a joint Canada-US project, with the Canadian side being handled by BCE subsidiary TMI Communications. The service will be marketed by land-based carriers such as Bell Mobility, Northwestel, Glentel and Infosat.
ORBCOMM will offer worldwide data communications and position reporting services. Teleglobe is responsible for the Canadian side of this joint venture, which involves putting 26 satellites into orbit. Transportation companies will find the service indispensable for charting vehicle and container movement.
Mobile satellite service won't replace cellular or pager services; rather, it will extend their range. Dual-mode terminals are already being designed to operate using cellular technology where possible and satellite technology elsewhere.
But this is just the beginning for satellite communications. Other projects are in the works that will soon let Earthlings become fully wireless, yet remain in permanent contact with the rest of the world.
|Great Britain||6,07 %|
Source: Bell Mobility