Ericsson keeps on truckin

If Ericsson Canada wanted to make a statement with its 3G wireless offerings, rolling into downtown Toronto last month in an 18-wheeler rig certainly helped.

Dubbed the “Drive to 3G Tour,” the Toronto-based wireless vendor offered a sneak preview of things to come as third-generation wireless networks (3G) get ready for roll out. Third-generation networks promise wireless speeds of up to 2Mbps, which will enable the use of high-bandwidth applications such as streaming video.

Although Ericsson is best known for manufacturing handheld devices, the company says it is currently building network architecture that will support solutions for the mobile Internet and which will bring 3G to fruition.

“We are trying to show people that Ericsson…has been so entranced in developing (3G) technology and so focused on trying to bring the enabling technology to market,” said Mark Henderson, CEO of Ericsson Canada in Mississauga, Ont. “We have been talking about 3G for so long, and now you can go and actually pick it up and see it and feel it. This is to educate people on what is coming.”

Although industry analysts do not foresee wide-scale 3G deployments until 2005, Ericsson’s Henderson expects the technology to be in the hands of Canadians by the end of next year.

“The availability of the technology – the hardware and the phones – is already here,” he said. “The development and manufacturing of the technology isn’t really the issue anymore. It is more the logistics of the individual markets.”

The two big markets expected to drive 3G are the youth market and the enterprise market, Henderson continued. He said that while gaming and chat functionalities will entice the youth market, high-speed apps like inventory querying and access to corporate databases will push the enterprise market further into the mobile space.

Ericsson, in combination with Rogers AT&T Wireless, have developed a 3G business application for Canadian real estate agents that enables them to access a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) – a database which lists the latest available property updates wirelessly, and in real time. Through the MLS service, agents are able to receive detailed descriptions of available properties, and can download property images to show to prospective buyers.

“We have purchased a number of capabilities from Ericsson which serve as the platforms for the systems that we run,” said Bob Berner, executive vice-president and CTO of Rogers AT&T Wireless in Toronto. “For the real estate application, we are in partnership with them in terms of the development of the application. We selected Ericsson as our infrastructure provider for GSM/GPRS and we did that through a multi-vendor bid process. Ericsson won that bid fair and square based on their commitment, their proven performance, their credibility and their price.”

Lawrence Surtees, senior telecom analyst with IDC Canada Inc. in Toronto, said he was impressed by some of the consumer products at the Toronto event. Surtees noted, however, that although some of the applications can be classified as “really cool stuff,” cool doesn’t cut it in the business world.

He explained that for every dollar businesses spend on wireless technology, the consumer world spends two.

“This is due to several things, especially security,” Surtees said, citing a 2001 IDC survey in which 80 per cent of businesses stated security as a top issue when dealing with wireless technology. “Coverage and network speeds are big issues as well. Coverage has to be ubiquitous and it is not right now. There is also the lack of speed and a perceived high cost and difficulty of integrating the applications, as well as a perceived lack of applications themselves in the enterprise space.”

However, Surtees did note that Ericsson appears to be on the right track with its device and application offerings, but it is going to be up to the third-party software developers to tailor and develop business-geared practical applications.

And Ericsson says it is keeping an ear to the ground for what customers really want.

“In the end, [3G] is dependent on the people using it,” Henderson said. “It is going to be a different application and a different device depending on the user. It is really the advent of a couple of big horizontals and a bunch of verticals. There won’t be just one segment driving 3G.”