Canadians on road to wireless wonderland

To hear the advertisers, “marketeers” and high-tech pundits talk about the future of wireless technology, you’d think you’d just as likely book a trip to the moon via cell phone as call someone. But the truth is, we’re just about as far away from true mobility as we are from vacationing on the dark side of the satellite.

Nonetheless, we can dream… A world without wires. No Ethernet manacles trapping us in the digital world. A wireless wonderland.

We asked some forward-thinking industry insiders and observers to dream for us. They desired some interesting fantasies: digital wallets, portable medical information, new access devices, relevant information in the palm of your hand, everywhere, everywhere and everywhere.

But according to John Rynn, we’re nowhere near that yet – and we’d better get used to the distance. Rynn is vice-president of marketing for telecommunications with CGI Group Inc., and IT consultancy with offices in Toronto. So far as he’s concerned, we’re a while away from true mobile connectivity. Although we’re told the wireless world is but two to three years away, Rynn suggests untethered communication will come in on its own in five to seven years. After all, “we’ve got a heck of a lot to absorb…I think we’ll take a little bit longer to adapt.”

Rynn figures wireless users are wary of the notion of a serious paradigm shift. People seem to recognize that a lot of things have to happen before we reach utter wireless freedom.

Consider mobile devices. As they stand, handheld computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and “smart phones” offer poor interfaces. They’re tiny and they don’t lend themselves to multitasking the way old-fashioned computers do. But remedies abound. Rynn says, perhaps “agents” are the answer – programs designed to take queries from start to finish.

Let’s say you’re scheduling a doctor’s appointment via Research In Motion Ltd.’s (RIM’s) BlackBerry pocket e-mail device. You’d e-mail the practitioner, ask for an appointment and haggle over the time: I’m booked on Wednesday. How about Friday? I’m busy Friday. What about Monday? And so it goes.

A digital agent would take care of the barter, Rynn said. Tell your PDA, “I want to book a doctor’s appointment before next Friday.” The agent would schedule an appropriate time by accessing both the doctor’s and the patient’s electronic daytimers (a common function on handheld computers) to find an

amenable hour. Voila. Appointment booked for Monday, 5 p.m. Confirm? Send.