Use auction funds to support mobile industry: OCAD president

The federal government should use money from an upcoming wireless spectrum auction to support the development of the mobile industry rather than pay down the debt.

That’s one of the suggestions OCAD University president Sara Diamond made for shoring up Ontario’s mobile future at Lac Carling 3.0, a public sector technology leadership event in Toronto on Tuesday.

Diamond was co-principal investigator for Taking Ontario Mobile: An Action Plan for Leadership in the Mobile Revolution, a sprawling study involving OCAD, the Mobile Experience Innovation Centre, and dozens of academics and consultants.

While Ontario is “a centre of activity” in mobile, with 700 mobile companies and a strong academic research infrastructure, only 84 per cent of Canadians have mobile phones. “That’s not great,” she said, with developing countries like Brazil boasting penetration rates of well over 100 per cent.

Cost is a key reason. Eighty-three per cent of those surveyed for the study said they felt overcharged for their service delivery option.

“Tariffs are just too high. There’s too much concentration,” Diamond said.

Maintaining a viable mobile industry is critical to staying competitive. She pointed to Research in Motion Ltd.’s portfolio of hundreds of patents as an example of a valuable resource that has to be retained.

“We need to keep that intellectual property in Canada, not have another Nortel scenario,” in reference to the once-might telecom company that ended up sold off for parts and having most of its patent portfolio sold off.

Aside from reinvesting the millions in spectrum auction money (which might be late to the table anyway, with federal Industry Minister Christian Paradis announcing a delay to the upcoming 700MHz auction the same day), Diamond cites dedicating federal and provincial venture funds to mobile and investment in skills training as strategies to support the mobile industry.

The study focused on five key sectors where mobility will have an impact: learning, health, government, entertainment and commerce.

John Semple, surgeon-in-chief of Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, said the key mobile findings in health are largely related to transitions from acute care to chronic care to home care. Mobile applications can “be a lever” to ease and even improve those transitions.

“Hospitals are great for care,” he said. “They’re not necessarily great for recovery.” Most readmissions to the hospital for complications happen within 30 days. The hospital felt an app to monitor patients as they recovered at home, rather than in the hospital, could be a benefit.

The hospital launched a pilot project – “Actually, we don’t call it a ‘pilot’ anymore, because it has certain implications. We call them ‘protoypes,’” he deadpanned – with three surgeons and 60 patients. The patients were issued smart phones with an app that allowed them to keep track of their recovery and pain levels, and take photos of their healing wounds, and post the results to a cloud-based system that doctors could access. The app collected 450 points of data, flagged abnormal answers, and posted patient responses to a timeline. Unlike a recovery visit, the surgeons could actually see the progression in a temporal context.

Catherine Middleton, associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of IT management, spoke of the need for inclusion and accessibility to mobile technology for all. Leadership on that front is not coming from the federal government, she said – we’ve been waiting several years for the feds to announce their digital strategy.

Public Wi-Fi networks are one way to provide mobile services on a local level to people who can’t afford a data plan, she said. Mobile networks must be treated as part of the telecom network infrastructure, not something overlaid on top.

The U.K. government has adapted a “digital by default” approach to services – online services that are of the same quality or better than in-person, she said.
“Should we also be going mobile by default?” she asked. Even if we don’t design online service for mobile devices, people are reaching them that way, she said.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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