Wireless contest to celebrate innovation

Sang Mah sees her cell phone from a different angle these days. As the new president of the Wireless Innovation Network of BC (WINBC), Mah lives at the forefront of advances in technology.

She’s also been digging up some evocative anecdotes on Canadian wireless history.

Mah recently discovered the inventor of her cell phone’s earliest predecessor, the walkie-talkie. He was Canadian, she says – a self-taught electronics wizard, who lived in Burnaby North in Vancouver, the same neighbourhood where Mah grew up.

Donald Hingis, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 96, patented one of the earliest forms of two-way wireless radio communication in 1939.

And it’s this Canadian tradition of inventing technology that Mah wishes to see more of at the next Wireless Innovation Contest (WIC 2006).

Produced by WINBC, the contest will recognize organizations and innovators whose wireless deployments are already making a difference or have the opportunity to change the way people do things, benefiting communities and generating profits. Closing date for entries is January 30 and winners will be announced next April in Las Vegas during the CTIA Wireless show.

“I’d really love to see a full history of Canadian wireless technology with all its inventions through the years,” says Mah, who was appointed WINBC president on September 1.

“The industry is in such a growth phase and there’s a lot of energy. It’s very entrepreneurial from our perspective. We’re also starting to a see a huge improvement in interoperability between carriers, and that’s really helping developers take applications to the next level.”

The third annual competition – with sponsors Lucent, Nokia and Telus Mobility – aims to expose the latest and most meaningful advances in wireless applications and infrastructure in North America.

The contest is open to Canadian and U.S. companies and will showcase innovations from all fields of wireless, from cellular-based applications and Bluetooth to Wi-Fi, RFID and broadband.

Tantalus Systems Corp. won first prize in the public sector category at WIC 05 for the application of its wireless radio communication networks in the electrical utility industry.

The Vancouver-based firm has implemented 900 MHz spread spectrum technology, the same as is used in cordless telephones, for smart-meter reading and time-of-use metering, measuring power quality and recording power outages. The company has nine installations in North America, including three pilot projects in Ontario: in Hamilton, Oshawa and Chatham-Kent.

“This kind of demand-response system gives the utility a lot of operating efficiencies through real-time monitoring, so they can take action long before the customer even knows about it,” says Glen Brownlee, chairman and CEO of Tantalus.

The WINBC award proved useful in building credibility for the company, says Brownlee. “The recognition that the award brings is an endorsement of the technology choices that we made and how we put it all together,” he says. “From a customer, recruitment and investor perspective, we can point to WINBC and we can say this is hot technology.”

WINBC is looking for examples and case studies of wireless adoption in North America in the broader space, says Mah, from public services to business and enterprise solutions, what’s happening in the home, in health in terms of personal well-being, as well as in the institutional system and in communities.

“I think in Europe some of this wireless innovation is being adopted earlier, and this is one of the reasons for hosting the competition,” says Mah, pointing to payment systems over a cell phone as a case in point.

Entries for the competition will demonstrate wireless products that are already in place, so they’re showing how wireless is being adopted and who the early adopters are, says Mah.

“We want to broaden the awareness so it becomes more mainstream, so every city you go to will be a truly wireless city.”

The contest is as much about the product, the company and the technology as it is about the customer and how a company has improved its customer’s business mandate, whether it’s profit or not-for-profit, she says.

Companies must work with their clients to understand how the technology can be applied not only in a compelling way, but also in a way that makes sense business-wise, says Mah. “The collaborative effort is an important factor in the early-stage adoption.”

Connie Wong, president of Seattle-based Vidiator Technology Inc. echoes these sentiments. “It’s also important to be able to show what you learned from the project, from the experience of deploying your technology,” she says.

Vidiator won the enterprise award last year for its video streaming platform for mobile 3G networks, capturing live events on camera and then sending the images directly to cellular handsets via online data trans-coding.

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