Wireless roadmap identifies key Canadian apps

Canada should focus on growing its wireless infrastructure and developing applications for the platform if it wants to establish a strong IT industry, according to a recent report by The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).

Formerly the Software Human Resource Council, ICTC outlined a 10-year technology roadmap for industry, government and educators to take advantage of the half-a-trillion-dollar market that is the mobile sector, said Neil Knudsen, president of Meridian Networks and head of the ICTC’s steering committee.

“That’s up from almost zero 20 years ago. The growth rate has been huge,” said Knudsen.

Last year, the Ottawa, Ont.-based not-for-profit agency, which aims to build a strong Canadian IT industry through education, announced it would develop technology roadmaps for various areas beginning with the wireless sector.

The process entailed approximately 60 industry experts weighing various technologies and determining which had the greatest potential for impact on Canada’s IT industry.

“Wireless was one of the key areas for Canada and the industry to focus on as a technology to move forward with,” said Knudsen, adding the area will grow not only from expanding its mobile services infrastructure, but from developing applications that piggyback on that platform.

It’s not surprising that wireless technologies was identified as the key area of focus given Canada’s geography, said Michael Rozender, consultant at Oakville, Ont.-based Rozender Consultants International.

“Our demographics call for being innovative in communications technology and wireless makes a lot of sense in areas where we don’t have wire line infrastructure,” said Rozender.

However, a technology roadmap that is as long as a decade concerns him, citing what he calls “disruptive technologies” that often come into play when least expected. “Anything more than five years is a shot in the dark.”

Jon Arnold, principal of Toronto, Ont.-based J. Arnold & Associates, believes that besides there being a wireless argument for consumers, it’s a good economic strategy to support companies that develop these technologies given the growing global market.

The report identifies three such applications of wireless technology that, Knudsen notes, are “not necessarily the be all and end all, but the three samples that were chosen.”

The first is intelligent transportation systems, such as those for mass transit, traffic management, and collision avoidance.

The second, a wireless software platform for systems integration that will see better integration of individual wireless softwares to enhance the functionality of wireless devices, such as the province or nation-wide integration of healthcare records.

And lastly, a wireless platform for mobile multi-player gaming in what is described as a high-growth sector in Canada.

Rozender believes developing intelligent transportation systems makes sense for the country. “You need all forms of transport mechanisms for all forms of communications whether it be physical or virtual.”

As for wireless integration of systems, he said the industry would be wise to look at the standards that are in place because “until you get a standard to drive it, you’re not going to see a lot of activity.”

Rozender agrees there is a lot of money in the gaming industry, but he would have expanded that scope to include all forms of mobile entertainment. And in fact, he would have chosen to include location-based services (for instance, a mobile service subscriber can find the location of the nearest business) as one of the recommended applications for wireless platform.

Arnold agreed that intelligent transportation systems is not a surprising recommendation. “That’s a big area for sure. There are a lot of companies trying to approach these RFID technologies.” Addressing safety issues through wireless devices, he added, will lead to safer roads and lower insurance costs.

Wireless systems integration, said Arnold, is definitely one way technologies can be used to increase efficiency and be environmentally friendly, given the paper and filing cabinet space it would save.

In general, Arnold thinks that the recommended wireless applications are good choices by the ICTC as the technologies stand to benefit the public sector and make “these institutions and workflows more efficient and less expensive.”

According to Knudsen, small to medium-sized companies in particular can take advantage of these applications by developing an application that can be run on a wireless phone, instead of building an alternate wireless infrastructure.

“Wireless is a great medium for a lot of technology companies to be successful,” he said.

The report notes, besides having the radio frequency technology skills, the importance of higher-level strategic thinking, such as system integration, network integration, whole sensor network skills.

“You need a software guy who understands spectrum and a radio frequency engineer who understands some of the issues related to how games work and how people play games,” said Knudsen.