A hotbed of wireless activity has broken loose in Canada, according to Alistair Rennie.

Rennie, senior vice-president of marketing for Toronto-based 724 Solutions, spoke about the emergence of mobile services at the 11th annual Executive Symposium on E-commerce and Corporate Portals.

“We go from being on the phone and paying bills, which is a neat activity, to the whole world of mobile e-commerce…being able to buy anything from anyone and making a secure payment from a computer.”

724 Solutions Inc. provides infrastructure software allowing secure delivery of financial services at any time to a broad range of devices.

“Whether it is a cell phone, or a ring pager, (we’re) basically putting infrastructure in place so these transactions can be taken out in a way that’s easy to use and simple to the customer and cost effective for organizations to take out,” Rennie said. 724 Solutions has several worldwide partners including Bank of Montreal, Citygroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, he said.

Rennie predicts that by the year 2003 one billion people will be connected to the Internet via some form of digital wireless service.

Don Thompson, an analyst with Toronto-based Deloitte Consulting, agreed with Rennie’s prediction.

“To say a billion people are going to have access to the Internet through their phones and other wireless devices is probably bang on the money.”

Thompson said the capability to work with the Internet from a phone or PDA, or more likely a merger of the two, will be pervasive within the next year.

Rennie said financial institutions have an interesting set of reasons to act on this. The goal is to deepen customer relationships and increase revenues and profits. “If you think about how you approach financial services now vs. how you did it 10 years ago, it’s a dramatic change,” Rennie said. “You are now able to compare savings rates across institutions and move your money in a matter of minutes.”

He added that a client can find a cheaper mortgage or a cheaper car loan from five different people in a matter of seconds. He also said that a different price is only two or three clicks away. The information need to make financial services choices is available.

Rennie said better relationships can be built with clients. “It’s an incredible opportunity and it’s about doing it consistently in a personalized way and thinking about how to leverage the strengths of all of your business.”

He maintained, however, that innovation in these devices goes beyond what the IT business community is normally able to handle. “You need to build something for the device that has yet to be invented. They need to be network agnostic, and it needs to run on different types of cell standards. It needs to run across wire lines.”

Rennie said institutions putting this type of infrastructure in place don’t want to have network selection block service – this has got to become like the Internet world where consumers can get to where they want to from any device in a standardized way.

Will the branches of banks become extinct? According to Thompson, it is just the opposite. “There’s still the need for people to have contact with people, especially if they have problems,” Thompson said. “[Branches] are going to be problem-solving and customer-contact points as opposed to cash dispersement and acceptance points.”

Thompson said he can’t wait for the day when he only has one item to carry around. “[When] I don’t have to carry my Palm, I don’t have to carry a Blackberry, I just have my phone and it’s got my PDA and my pager built in to it. It’s also got my wallet. I don’t want to carry a wallet. I’m getting tired of it,” Thompson said.

Rennie said wireless transactions more convenient and simple compared to working on a PC.

“There’s going to be innovation in these types of personal computer devices beyond anything anybody’s ever seen in IT,” Rennie said. “The average consumer will have true wideband communications through mobile devices before they have it on a large scale in their house.”

Rennie told the audience they would be able to get their phones to ring and tell them when GAP khaki’s went on sale, enter a coupon number in their phones, and press the Buy button.

“You laugh, but this will happen.”