Cell phones that send and retreive e-mail. PDAs that link up to a corporate intranet through a virtual private network. A lap top that hooks up to the Internet using a cell phone as a modem.

All visions of services enabled by the next generation – the third – of wireless technology?

Actually, they’re already possible with 2G technology, said Brian Shaughnessy, the vice-president of wireless services for Bell Mobility. But he admitted the slow 14.4Kbps Internet connection speed of most cell phone handsets limits the gracefulness of Internet applications and the number of customers able to receive these wireless services.

“I’m a little bit of a heretic on this,” Shaughnessy said. “Everybody keeps talking about how you need 3G to get to anywhere. Our belief is 3G is about more capacity to handle the demand that is expected (for wireless services).”

3G, commonly considered to be a technology, but which is actually a set of speficications that various technologies comply to, is expected to increase the connection speed of wireless devices tenfold in the next two years. Ultimately, experts say 3G technologies will offer speeds up to 384Kbps for mobile calls and 2Mbps for stationary calls.

Canada’s five cellular telephony providers are currently falling over themselves to test 3G technologies in an effort to get to market the fastest.

To update:

Bell Mobility began testing 1xRTT, the first phase of 3G-compliant code division multiple access (cdma)2000 technology, using Nortel Networks’ Unified Networks solution and Samsung terminals earlier this year. Major competitor, B.C.-based Telus announced they are holding similar trials with Nortel this summer.

Clearnet, marketer of the Clearnet PCS and Mike phones, recently purchased a wireless base station from Lucent Technologies that is cdma2000-compliant. Lucent’s Flexent cdma Modular Cell can be used for either 3G1x or 1xRTT sessions, according to Clearnet.

Microcell, Canada’s only GSM provider, is working with Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry 2-way pager, to trial General Packet Radio Services technology in the Waterloo area. Microcell plans to get a jump on its competition by launching GPRS-enabled devices, which offer anywhere from 50Kbps to 115Kbps Internet connectivity, by the beginning of 2001, a full year before the other companies come out with their 3G devices.

Rogers AT&T is eagerly watching the trials its partners, AT&T in the U.S. and British Telecom, are undergoing using time division multiple access (TDMA)-enhanced data for global evolution (EDGE) technology. David Neale, the vice-president of new product devlopment for Rogers, said the company is attracted to EDGE technology because it believes that is where the TDMA and GSM technologies converge. Rogers currently uses a TDMA network, while GSM is the standard technology outside of North America.

Analyst Mark Quigley, of the Yankee Group in Canada, said there are still some changes that need to be made before 3G devices make themselves useful.

“I don’t think most existing handsets are going to last if 3G is going to take off,” Quigley said.”Having a 1×2 inch screen to receive data is kind of pointless. It’s black and white, it’s kind of ugly, and the keypad is cumbersome to use.”

Shaughnessy agreed. “You’re going to see handset providers producing two very different lines: the very small, personal voice device with some information data capability, so maybe you can do a quick stock look up or look for a restaurant or whatever; then you’re going to have that other device that people are going to have, which is datacentric and the size, shape, form factor will depend on the application they’re after.”