It is November 25th, 2003. The Senior Deputy Minister of the Super Ministry of Computers, Industry, Communications and Science (CICS for short), which now represents most of the GNP for Canada is just packing to leave for the airport. He is on his way to present Canada’s proposal for an additional 2 GHz of dedicated spectrum for the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). The meeting is being held in Geneva.

He packs lightly as the trip on the new Boeing SST takes only about 3 hours, but he does not forget to pack his Multifunction Communicator (the MC), a device about the size of a daytimer, i.e. 1 x 6 x 12 cm. with a touch activated screen.

Before leaving the house, he calls his son to wish him luck in the exam he is about to write at university. He dials his son simply by speaking to the MC and his son responds from the bus stop using his MC. In this case, the system has selected the lowest cost transmission – a microcell serving the neighbourhood only and at a low fixed monthly charge.

On his way to the airport, the DM dictates a couple of memos to the newly elected Prime Minister Ovide Mercredi (recently elected because of land settlement claims now providing Native People with ownership of about 80% of the land mass of Canada). These voice messages will be transcribed into E-Mail in the PM’s language of choice.

The DM then handwrites on the MC screen, a reminder to shop in Geneva for his wife’s birthday.

Once on the SST, he calls ahead to confirm his limousine at the airport. The call is relayed from the MC via satellite to Geneva.

While he is in the air, he receives a fax which is displayed on the MC screen.

He then calls up the last few pages from a novel he has been reading (Michael Creighton’s Jurassic Park VI). Once finished this, he challenges himself using the MC to play chess using some games played in the early 90’s by Karpov.

He then calls up some graphics for his presentation in Geneva, alters these and then downloads them (or is this uploading as it goes up to a satellite?) to his associates in Geneva so his graphic package will be up to date.

On his arrival, he calls the rest of his delegation, now using Iridium. The call from the MC is then handed-off to the Swiss Cellular System as soon as it is within range.

Finally, he checks his schedule, which has been updated on route automatically and which shows a change in the room for his meeting.

The MC has, of course, had its clock automatically updated to local time.

Finally, on the way in from the airport, he tunes into a T.V. station, again using the MC screen. The MC automatically selects one of several channels according to his predetermined preference.

Clearly, this is where we want to be – a single multipurpose, multimedia device operating universally. What do we have to do to get there?

We must let our imaginations soar. I am sure that all of the foregoing will represent a failure of the imagination. Much of what I have speculated will be available is already on the drawing boards. Some of it, with devices such as SIMON, is already here.

ln a recent meeting with the European Consortium, RACE, they could hardly understand our concentration on CT2+ Class 2 in Canada, or even PCS as it is being discussed in the United States at 1.8 GHz. They believe that anything less than a multimedia 64 kilobit ISDN approach to wireless communications is simply not worthy research. They are, of course, aiming at standards that will transgress European borders.

Where is this type of thinking, much less this type of research, being done in Canada?

We seem to have missed the real meaning of the conversion to digital for wireless communication to say nothing of fixed communication. There is no doubt that we will need dramatically more spectrum than is even being discussed in the United States to receive the hundreds of channels of full motion video, plus all of the other services I have referenced. However, with digital compression we understand how to go about making very efficient use of whatever spectrum is available. Essentially, the cost of communications will tumble just as the cost of computing has fallen constantly since the 1950’s.

This brings up the next point. The ability to build all of these functions into a hand held wireless device is also easily within our grasp. We tend to forget that the cost of the equivalent of a transistor, which was about $30 in the early ’60’s, has now dropped to 400 millionths of a cent on a fully integrated chip. The cost of these components is reducing computing power to being almost a free commodity. Even a contemporary digital cellular phone will soon have in the area of 60 MIPS of processing power.

Canada is in danger of missing the real excitement in wireless communications by focusing too narrowly on minor extensions to today’s products and services. And this is not only in terms of the manufacture of such devices as the hypothetical MC. The real winners are going to be the producers of software and information/entertainment services to be run on such devices. Canada has an enviable reputation for innovative software, and we could be amongst the big winners, if we look far enough ahead.

There are things that our Government can do to help. One of these will be to start clearing Spectrum in the 1.8 – 2.2 GHz and look ahead to possible future Spectrum requirements. A second area, in which the Government can be very helpful, is to lead the charge on ensuring that Canada is at the leading edge of UMTS or other standards developments.

But this is not something that can be left up to the Government. Industry has a great deal it can do to lead the way. I believe that in particular the service providers in wireless have been far too passive in just accepting what manufacturers provide. We do not really examine what our customers need, and then put specs out to the manufacturing industry to provide this. For example, I would speculate that there is no need to wait for an Iridium to provide essentially an universal communicator even now. Surely, a TDMA/GSM hand-held cellular phone would not be that hard to devise, even though the former operates at 800 MHz and the latter at 1.8 GHz. This would allow such a phone to be used in most parts of the world.

There has already been considerable talk about smart cards that would automatically convert any communications device, whether wired or wireless, to your personal device by incorporating your name, billing information, preferences for options and other matters into a device. But even with PIN codes, this will likely be open to fraudulent use. Why not start working now on a voice print to accomplish the same thing?

In summary, the future of wireless communications can be as exciting as we want to make it. However, if our Deputy Minister is going to be able to have his Multifunction Communicator by the year 2003, we have no time to waste.