Expect a wave of wireless in 2007

In the communication services sector, 2006 was the year voice over IP finally took off. The past year saw a rise in the profile of wireless with large projects getting underway in Toronto and rural Alberta. Government regulation was also a hot topic with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission deciding to regulate VoIP like traditional telephony service early in the year, only to have the new Conservative federal government tell the commission to steer the rules in favour of less regulation later in the year.

So what will 2007 bring?

One thing all the experts agree on is that wireless will continue to be in the spotlight.

The convergence of Wi-Fi and 3G services in one handset should happen late in the year, predicts Stefan Dubowski, industry analyst for Decima Reports.

“I think you’ll see a real push from Rogers,” he says. “Watch for these guys to come out with a dual-mode handset that can jump from Wi-Fi to wireless (cellular) networks seamlessly.”

This convergence will allow mobile employees to make calls over their company’s Wi-Fi networks and take advantage of the lower rates for non-cellular calls, but still be able to leave the building and continue the call by roaming onto the cellular network if they need to go somewhere.

High-speed wireless, in the form of WiMax, will get a lot of attention in 2007, forecasts Brian Sharwood, principal of telecom consultancy Seaboard Group.

The development of Inukshuk Wireless’ WiMax network, available in more than 20 rural centres across Canada, will be a focus, as will small rural carriers expanding into more urban areas, Sharwood believes.

“I think in 2007 you’ll see more WiMax in cities.”

Another big topic will be television content and how it’s distributed. Internet TV is a growing phenomenon and is taking content control away from the cable companies, Sharwood notes.

“It may not hit the mainstream,” he says, “but what the cable companies should do about it and how it should be regulated will be big topics of conversation.”

How Canadian enterprises organize their communications infrastructure teams will be a big issue in the new year, says Tony Olvet, vice-president of the communications practice with IDC Canada.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done in many Canadian companies putting together a strategy that brings network infrastructure, traditional IT computing infrastructure and all the voice telephony side together,” he says. “In the U.S. we’ve seen a lot more organizational convergence happening than in Canada.”

Until Canadian companies put their various IT assets under a single umbrella, it will be hard for them to take advantage of technologies such as unified communications, videoconferencing and mobile data services, Olvet explains.

Finally, Olvet feels there will be a renewed focus on hosted and managed services.

“In 2004 and 2005 there was a big push…. There were some challenges for all the providers — regulatory, service rollout, but mostly in terms of customer awareness with what could be done, what kind of hybrid model they could work with in phasing in VoIP.”

Both service providers and equipment providers will work to make hosted voice offerings more attractive this year, Olvet believes, citing Cisco and its Linksys One IP PBX, designed as the customer premise piece of a hosted voice service, as an example.

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