New era calls

Later this year, Industry Canada is expected to give several companies the go-ahead to launch digital wireless personal communication services on the 2 GHz (gigahertz) spectrum.If industry seers are correct, the introduction of the services could revolutionize telecommunications in Canada.Digital services...

Later this year, Industry Canada is expected to give several companies the go-ahead to launch digital wireless personal communication services on the 2 GHz (gigahertz) spectrum.

If industry seers are correct, the introduction of the services could revolutionize telecommunications in Canada.

Digital services offered on the 2GHz spectrum will comprise far more than simple voice communications.

For one thing, the super-high frequency has the capacity to transmit an enormous amount of data, sufficient even to permit high-demand services such as real-time video.

As well, it will give wireless providers the flexibility to offer a broad variety of products such as e-mail, Internet access and global phone numbers, in which one phone number will work seamlessly for a number of services over different types of networks.

It also means stiff competition for Canada’s cellular duopoly.

The government cleared the way for pcs in December 1992, when it awarded four companies licences to provide pcts (Public Cordless Telephone Service) on the 944-948 MHz (megahertz) spectrum.

pcts was supposed to bring an affordable mobile phone system to market, but the relatively limited data-transmission capacity of the 944-948 MHz spectrum quickly led to it becoming outdated.

Soon after the licences were awarded, worldwide industry attention began shifting to the 2GHz band, which has broader bandwidth and thus greater capacity for transmitting information.

Of the four companies awarded the original PCTS licenses, only Telezone went so far as to bring a service to market.

The business-based service, operating in office buildings in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, allows users to carry phones as far away as 100 metres from transmitter/receiver base stations.

Hal Turner, Telezone president and chief executive officer, says his company will continue to market services on the 944-948 MHz spectrum.

But Turner says the spectrum’s data transmission limitations make it virtually impossible for the licensees to establish national networks.

For that reason, he calls 2 GHz spectrum a real breakthrough.

‘The promise of 2 GHz is a service a lot less expensive then cellular, available to the mass market, and that has the capacity to allow a portable computer or hand-held device to transmit spreadsheets or other software-driven material,’ Turner says.

‘For the first time, voice, data and image come together in one wireless capability,’ he says.

Turner says economies of scale will hold pcs prices to the $40-a-month price range.

He says the consumer is driving the demand for affordable wireless communications, pointing to the recent success of low-cost cellular products such as Cantel’s Amigo and Bell’s Liberte.

On the technology side, second-generation pdas, or personal digital assistants, are designed to work with wireless networks and are ideally positioned to work with the mobility of pcs.

Apple’s new MessagePad 120, which works on the Newton platform and the Zaurus KPDA, a keyboard-enhanced personal digital assistant from Sharp Electronics, can send and receive e-mail, send faxes, get access to on-line services, take notes and be used as time and information managers.

Last Nov. 5, Industry Canada asked for submissions and proposals regarding the design and future of pcs in the 2 GHz band.

A call for applications for licences is expected in the next few months. The licences will likely be awarded by late summer.

Canadian wireless companies, realizing the limitations of 944-948 MHz and the potential of 2 GHz, began testing in the 1.8 and 1.9 GHz frequencies last year.

The u.s. government is currently auctioning off the 2GHz spectrum in its territory

In Canada, Telezone and fellow 944-948 MHz licensees MicroCell 1-2-1 (formerly Canada Popfone Corp.), Mobility Canada (representing the wireless divisions of Canada’s 12 telephone companies), and Rogers Cantel Mobile are all hoping for 2 GHz licences.

Another player is Clearnet Communications, of Pickering, Ont., which operates a 800 MHz MIRS (Motorola Integrated Radio System), an analog system serving commercial and industrial customers.

Clearnet is also launching an 800 MHz digital network early next year to provide four services on one handset: cellular, data, dispatch and paging.

If granted a 2 GHz licence, Wade Oosterman, Clearnet vice-president, says the company is prepared to build a third network.

Oosterman says wireless is going to be a huge industry.

‘We’ve just scratched the surface,’ he says.

‘There’s 12% penetration in Canada today, and most financial analysts project growth to 30% by year 2000 as people get familiar with improved productivity and flexibility.

‘The u.s. already has over 20% penetration.’