Wireless demo gets tripped up

A demonstration of Rogers AT&T Wireless’ and Ericsson Canada’s third generation wireless network in Montreal in February didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

Ericsson officials prefaced the demonstration with an advertisement-style video for their future Edge product: a wireless device combining voice, video and data. The advertisement promised clear video on the mini screen, excellent voice quality and a fast connection speed to the Internet.

Bill Gadja, director of communications for Ericsson Canada, said the first Edge devices would appear on the market by January 2001, with all of the features available by January 2002.

The demonstration of the underlying Edge technology involved two wireless calls: one to Dallas and the other to a specially-equipped van right outside of Ericsson’s Montreal office. Before the Dallas call was made, the Internet link facilitating the call was lost, so scrambling officials decided to go ahead with the local call first.

That call was shown to the audience as a video-conferenced link to the van, but the audio and video quality was so poor most of the time that it was difficult to communicate with the people in the van. When the audio and video was briefly clear enough as the van drove around the block, Ericsson officials along with a Quebec minister were seen loading Web sites on a laptop in the van, also wirelessly.

Daniel Dulong, senior specialist of systems research with Ericsson Canada, explained that the poor quality was due to the unexpected cold weather of approximately -20 C on that February day in Montreal.

The poor audio and video may in fact have been to Ericsson’s benefit. During a tour of the van facilities after the demonstration and when the cameras were off, a journalist clicked on one of the recently loaded sites as saved in the browser and embarrassed the remaining Ericsson official as the Playboy site appeared on the screen.

After the van demonstration, the Internet link to Dallas was re-established, but equally disappointing in its video and audio quality. Despite the crackling and skipping audio, however, the Dallas crew was heard to explain that the reason their mobile unit was not in motion as planned was that their truck had broken down.