PREPARING FOR 2001
COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIES ’89 TORONTO. MAY 17, 1989
Ever since the invention of the hard wired telephone, people have dreamed of being able to be in touch wherever they are. Whether the concept was as old as the Dick Tracy wrist radio or as new as the Star Trek Combadge, people have always wanted to have freedom of movement while being reachable or being able to contact others at will.
To prove this idea is not new, here is your typical mobile phone as designed by Marconi in England in 1901. Not very compact and not very convenient when going through the car wash.
Once the highly sophisticated cellular systems came on stream, mobility for voice communication became a reality. As we have been asked to talk about where the. industry will be in the year 2001, let me make the bold prediction that such mobile voice communications will become absolutely common place for business users during the decade leading up to that year.
Since cellular started in Canada it has been less than four years. By now we have somewhere over 250,000 cellular phones in Canada with the growth rate exceeding everyone’s expectations.
As is well known, the penetration rate in Canada is higher than it is in the United States even allowing for their head start by some 20 months.
If you look at the anticipated growth rate of cellular in Canada, the Booz Allen Hamilton study indicated that we could reasonably expect about 1 million subscribers by the end of 1993.
Looking a bit further out, I would easily project a 15% penetration by the year 2000 or somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3 – 4 million phones depending on whether you assume that 15% is of the population served or of the total population. Either way, it is an astounding figure.
Perhaps it is less astounding when one looks at the million or so new cars sold in Canada each year and one could reasonably expect that a high percentage of these over the years will have phones either built in or at least as regular options. This is in addition to a retrofit market for some 12 million existing cars. And this in turn is in addition to trucks, boats, buses, trains, tractors or any other moving vehicle one could think of.
But even this is not where the excitement of the industry is. The increasingly small portable phones will become common place in your pocket or your purse to say nothing of the ones already available for briefcase use. The new Motorola MicroTac is an example of this new technology.
Just to look at the business services available on cellular already the industry offers:
• mobile fax machines
• data transmission to PC’s or other devices
• cellular with paging
• voice mail
• voice activated dialing
• call following (the way we always thought cellular should work).
Of more importance, however, is the way cellular networks are evolving. The industry already provides coverage in 7 of our 10 provinces with an 8th (Saskatchewan) coming on stream in August.
A few weeks ago, Cantel announced its intention to provide continuous cellular coverage coast to coast and of course at the same time cover all 10 provinces.
However, for cellular to be able to serve this huge new market, there will be a continuous pressure for additional spectrum. Even with the advent of digital transmission between the mobile devices and the nearest cell site, which should provide perhaps a 4 – 8 times increase in capacity using the same spectrum, there will not be enough to meet the demands we predict in the major metropolitan areas. From a regulatory standpoint, if the amount of spectrum available for cellular is constrained, then the only alternative would be to have cellular become an elitist service, i.e. its prices would continue to rise and it would no longer become the universal service that its technological potential would permit it to be.
With the service already committed by Cantel, we would cover about 75% of the population of Canada. To go beyond this one would have to move to satellite transmission. Here the potential of MSAT comes into play. Given the limited use MSAT will have in urban areas where shadowing from buildings and other problems will likely preclude its active use, as well as the anticipated cost per minute, MSAT is a complimentary service to cellular and does allow Cantel to meet its originally stated objective of providing access to mobile communications to all Canadians.
However, as I emphasized earlier, it is not just cellular we are talking about. Cellular is not the best answer for all applications. It is a circuit switched technology which is largely unsuitable for handling short bursts of data. It ties up a channel when perhaps only a short digital transmission to a taxi cab is required, e.g. ‘go to Stand 3’. Obviously the answer is an over the air packet switched network.
Cantel recently announced the establishment of its Mobitex Data Radio Division. Mobitex is an open public protocol network designed to maximize access and service to Canadian business. Smaller firms who could not justify a private mobile data network can realise the same business benefits as larger businesses. Larger firms can extend crowded or limited private networks using the public network. This network will ultimately be available across Canada and will serve the transportation industry, service and maintenance organizations, taxi firms, public safety and utility organizations or any operation that requires the ability to communicate effectively when people are in the field or on the move.
Paging will continue to play a major role as individuals will want the ability to control their mobile communications, i.e. they want to know a phone call has been received and preferably who made it. They will then return the phone call using their cellular phone whenever the time is convenient. Advanced voice messaging services will avoid much of the telephone tag we now encounter.
Pagers obviously will be built in to cellular phones.
The digital cordless telephone is a development you have no doubt read about. This is sometimes known as the ‘poor man’s cellular’. Or because of its technology, the Zone Phone. This is a limited capability device. At the moment the U.K. version or CT2 is only proposed to operate one way and will only be useful within 150 – 300 metres of a base station. It is designed to serve as a replacement for the pay phone in railway stations, subway stations or other locations. A more advanced version called the Digital European Cordless Telephone (DECT) would allow two way communication but still likely without hard off. While these new devices are nominally going to be less expensive, the rapidly declining price of cellular phones particularly in the post digital era, i.e. after 1991, may make very little difference between the cost of the CT2 phone and the new digital cellular phone.
However, there is a great deal of potential for such devices in offices. The cordless PBX is a concept that we will be actively developing.
Finally, one could look at phones in the sky. The current approach of putting ground stations across the country to serve aircraft is not a good long range approach. Clearly such traffic should be transmitting up to a satellite rather than down to the ground. Hopefully MSAT will make this a possibility as well.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
Beyond all of this I have a personal vision of where I see this industry going.
I have a vision of a world where everyone could be in touch at any time:
• where everyone would have a personal communications number
• where satellite communications will link everyone who wants to be in touch
• where computers will translate languages in real time with voice recognition
• where there is personal access to universal data banks
• where financial transactions can be completed orally with voice identification.
In a word, where our industry will finally make McLuhan’s Global Village a reality. I realise that I will have to wait longer than 5 years to see all this come about but many in this room will still be very active in the field in the first couple of decades of the 21st century.
Bringing all this about is a great challenge, a great responsibility and makes mobile communications one of the truly great industries for this or any other time.