i5 drives customer choice with new content engine

Less than a year after its launch, Montreal’s Microcell i5 Inc., a developer of carrier-grade Internet data solutions and a subsidiary of Microcell Telecommunications Inc., has launched its first major service: a customer preference content engine.

The company is first rolling out the service through the re-designed www.Fido.ca portal of its sister company, Microcell Solutions Inc., which markets the Fido-brand mobile phones.

According to i5 president and chief operating officer Francois-Charles Sirois, Fido customers with SMS- or WAP-enabled phones now have the option of customizing content that they like (including stock quotes, horoscopes, news, etc.) and have it sent to their handset at the date and time they choose.

All 922,000 Fido customers will also be able to access their personal billing information through the Fido portal.

According to Jeremy Depow, a senior analyst with telecommunications research firm The Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont., i5’s new preference engine has likely been designed to buoy Microcell customers’ interest in wireless data services.

“This is just for educating consumers as to what is to come next (in the) evolutionary process of wireless data,” Depow said.

The rationale for this approach is that consumers will already be regular users of wireless data services when Microcell unveils its more robust 2.5G and 3G packet data services over the next few years, said Depow. He added it is likely Microcell, as with other carriers, will charge customers for those enhanced services.

Depow said it is also necessary for Microcell Solutions to keep offering new services to its customers in order to lower its churn rates (customer disconnections), “so a customer still finds Microcell attractive and doesn’t go get caught up with what another company is offering.”

Though Microcell Solutions is, so far, the only customer of i5’s preference engine, Sirois said the company plans to spend the rest of the year marketing the service to carriers in the international marketplace. Since Rogers AT&T Wireless is Canada’s only other Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication-network provider, Sirois admitted the market for i5’s engine in Canada “might be a little rough.”

Depow said he was skeptical that carriers would be interested in i5’s engine, at least until the company develops applications specific to General Packet Radio Services (GPRS). GPRS is a new packet-data standard that has been developed upon the GSM standard and which can transmit data at rates between 56Kbps and 115Kbps.

Sirois pointed out that i5 is planning specific applications for GPRS, mostly geared for the business customer.

He included the typical links to e-mail, calendars and contact lists, but said i5 is also examining ways for users to access intranets through secure means. Microcell i5 is also developing a suite of vertical business applications, possibly including location-management services, he said.

Depow cautioned that the market for i5’s services might not open up until carriers begin to get their pricing models for data services in place, such as SMS messaging “or the (other) data they allow their customers to have access to.”

Microcell i5 can be visited through Microcell Telecommunications’ corporate site at www.