Telus intros

A new wireless Internet service from Telus Mobility promises to make workforces more mobile while saving companies money, according to officials at the Burnaby, B.C.-based firm.

With i-Web Unlimited, Telus puts Internet access on personal digital assistant (PDA) devices and laptop computers with wireless Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) modems. Launched in December in the Lower Mainland of B.C., the service will reach the rest of B.C. and Alberta in the first quarter of 2001, and according to Telus’s communications manager, Rion Sillito, the company plans to move east throughout Canada in the future. A timeframe has to yet to be determined, however.

The service, which costs a flat rate of $50 per month, provides customers with unlimited wireless access to e-mail, the Web and corporate applications back at the office, Sillito said. Customers can either connect via a Palm V PDA device from Palm Inc. or a Windows laptop computer with a CDPD modem.

“We have got quite a bit of feedback from customers that they are looking for more connectivity for mobile employees and part of the problem with connectivity in the past has been that it’s expensive to buy into, while this is a flat-rate service that allows you to budget ahead of time,” Sillito said.

But are businesses really interested in the product and, if so, are they really willing to pay $50 per month for each of their employees in the field? At this point, price points for comparison do not exist, said Ian Angus, president of Angus Telemanagement Group Inc. and a telecommunications industry observer.

“I think that’s probably the biggest single question that everybody in the wireless business has today – does anybody actually care about being able to browse the Web while they’re walking around? And I think it’s extraordinarily hard to tell,” Angus said. “The best things about the Web are pretty hard to read on small screens.”

There is a demand for mobile e-mail, but the interest in mobile Web is still unknown, he said.

There are few companies in Canada with this type of service, although more exist in the U.S. Sillito said U.S. suppliers typically charge approximately US$35 to US$50 per month, which, when currency conversion is taken into consideration, puts Telus Mobility about on par with its U.S. counterparts. At this point, the number of i-Web subscribers is not available.

When trying to move the new service out of Western Canada, Angus predicted that Telus will experience difficulties because of the overall lack of the CDPD protocol, which is only used in Canada by Telus and companies in the U.S. According to Angus, they couldn’t deploy the i-Web service across Canada “without a substantial network change.”

“It’s something that we can’t do immediately, for sure, but it is part of the overall strategy,” Sillito said. Telus Mobility is dealing with Clearnet Communications Inc., which it acquired in October, to roll out the service nation-wide.

Telus is trying very hard to move out new services quickly to establish themselves as a technology leader and innovator, which has not been their image in the past, so this is an area that is quite important for them, Angus said.

“The whole area of wireless Internet is one of those things that everybody feels they have to do in order to feel that they are extremely current and up to date, but that nobody is actually making much money