Bell Canada sports latest in tech fashion

Bell Canada has completed its field trials of Xybernaut Corporation’s wearable computers and ordered 300 to begin outfitting its field technicians.

Brad Chitty, Bell’s general manager of mobile communications services, said the company’s trial using the earlier MA-IV was a great success helping the company’s field technicians remain mobile.

“The target word was mobility,” Chitty said.

Chitty said Bell plans to eventually replace the IBM ThinkPad laptops currently used by its 10,000 technicians with newer versions of the Xybernaut gear. The technicians repair and install telecommunications infrastructure for Bell’s corporate and residential customers. The technicians are required to work in all kinds of conditions and locations, and often have to return to their truck to enter data onto a laptop. By wearing the mobile computer Bell’s technicians no longer have to enter the truck to find or enter information.

Bell said the market trial resulted in workers saving one hour a day by using the wearable computer. The trial began in October 2000, involved outfitting 19 technicians with the MA-IV. The technicians tested the wearable PCs in all weather and work conditions that they would encounter.

The technicians found the technology easy to use and a valuable tool, Bell said. The daylight readable screen contributed to a reduction in computing time and worked well, the technicians said, when they were viewing plant schematic diagrams.

The MA-V is the current model that Bell’s technicians are wearing, and the latest version of Xybernaut’s product. Like the earlier model, the MA-V system is typically worn on a belt holster with a headset-style video display or flat panel display screen, microphone and earpiece speaker, and a wrist-mounted mini-keyboard.

Improvements to the MA-V include an integrated programmable digital signal processor (DSP) from Texas Instruments and a speed bump to a 500MHz Intel Corp. Mobile Celeron processor. The MA-V’s DSP technology includes a speech recognition engine that has the potential to allow users to operate the wearable computer “hands free,” Xybernaut said.

Almost 40 per cent lighter than the earlier model, the MA-V offers multiple connection ports including Compact Flash, USB, IEEE 1394 (FireWire), and Types II and III PCMCIA.

The MA-V’s 500MHz Intel chip is supported by 128MB of SDRAM, which can be doubled, as well as an expandable 2GB micro drive. Users can choose between the Windows 98, Windows 2000, NT, or Linux operating systems, Xybernaut said.

The MA-V starts at around US$3,995.

Bell Canada, based in Montreal, can be found at Xybernaut, of Fairfax, Va., is at

– With files from Dan Neel of InfoWorld.