the Umbilical Cord
Whatever are kids
going to do?
Time was when they'd
put a string between two cans to play at phoning each other, but now,
thanks to the constant advance of technology, their homemade attempts
at reaching out and touching someone are becoming less and less "current."
After all, this is
the decade in which wireless communication has taken off and cellular
phones have evolved from multi-thousand dollar monsters to $100 Lilliputians
that slip into (and, if you bend over without forethought, out of!) a
Oh sure, we'll remain
wired for the foreseeable future, but more and more people are choosing
to cut that physical connection for their personal or corporate communications
- and not just for talking to people, either. Data transmission is also
beginning to leap from the wire and into the ether.
A study done for the
Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association claimed that the young
and educated Albertans were more likely to use wireless phones than any
other identifiable group of Canadians. This shouldn't come as a surprise,
since Alberta as a whole has the most per capita cellular phone use in
Canada, but its interesting to note how youth are riding the crest
of this communications wave.
The story is much
the same across Canada. Over a third of Canuck households currently have
access to a wireless phone, and that figure is estimated to increase by
up to 30 per cent (to about 5.6 million households) before summer of 1999.
And this trend is naturally being repeated in industrialized countries
around the world.
So while it may not
be time to dump your shares in copper mines, it may be time to diversify
Wired networks still
have their uses, as well as a huge, already built-up infrastructure, and
while wireless communication will probably never completely replace physically
connected networks, the "non-physically connected" network is
expected by some in the industry to equal the wired world in size and
scope before long.
Part of the reason
for the growing success of wireless networks is the advent of the digital
networks, which increase capacity while enhancing service and features.
Another is the decrease in prices of both hardware and airtime: depending
upon your service provider and your service agreement, using a $100 (or
less) digital cellphone can cost little more than using a conventional
landline telephone - at least if you're not too verbose.
If you talk a lot,
or travel a lot, however, you can end up paying through the mouth.
Still, the price and
efficiency of today's digital PCS phones make them powerfully attractive,
especially to businesses or people who don't already have their own phone
number. This may be one of the reasons young people are so inclined toward
digital cellphones: even if they still live at home, they can have their
own "presence" in the phone system and when they do finally
move out they already have a phone number they can take with them.
Most people don't
use their cellphones as their primary phones, partly because of
despite falling prices the relative premium on airtime, but service
providers are working hard to change that. Canada's Cantel, for example,
says it's working toward a not-too-distant future service that won't charge
customers airtime for calls they make from inside their "home zone."
This would mean that only calls made while out and about would be charged
airtime blurring the line between wired and wireless service and
allowing people to have individual phones, as opposed to home-based units.
The trend toward "personal
phones" as opposed to "home phones" means that in the future
people will be calling people, instead of calling places. So if you want
to phone Josephine Smith, you'll call her phone (which could be anywhere)
instead of calling her home (which remains static unless she lives in
Such personal, portable,
communication is also perfect for "transient" people, those
on the go or who change residences often. It can also be nice to have
a wireless phone as a backup to a home's conventional phone, especially
if you have only one hardwired phone line and like to surf the Internet
(which ties up the line for people trying to get in touch with you)
or have teenagers.
Consumers can also
look forward to "number portability" as a further incentive
to snipping the wire. For several years you've been able to take your
phone number with you when changing residences, depending upon how far
you move, but this will eventually also hold true to the move from wired
In fact, a trial of
this concept has already been completed in Alberta and proved quite popular.
Why worry about taking
your phone number with you to the wireless world? It makes life easier
if people don't have to relearn your phone number every time you move
- and you don't have to remember a new number either.
There's another market
for wireless telephony that, while not strictly analogous to digital PCS,
shows the power and potential of wireless technology. It's called the
"fixed wireless access network," or "local loop network,"
and its market isn't people on the move. Instead, these networks are targeted
at people living in more remote locations where it's expensive to run
the wires of conventional phone systems.
Already in service
in some Ontario areas, where a few hundred "party line" customers
were upgraded to private, wireless networks, as well as in countries like
Kenya, Poland, and Colombia, the technology sees wires running only from
the home to a nearby antenna, possibly mounted on the house or the barn.
From within the range
of the antenna and handset, you have full telephone service, including
Internet access if you want, without the service provider having to swallow
the $30,000 - $40,000Cdn cost of running a line onto the property. It's
a nice, "win-win" scenario for the customer and provider alike.
The next generation
of wireless communication could be the satellite phone, which as the name
suggests uses orbiting birds instead of land-based antenna towers or ground-based
wires. This is still a pretty expensive way to go, however, though prices
will undoubtedly come down over time. So while the existing wired network
will continue to serve its client base well, the new generations of "freewheeling"
wireless services will augment them, offering customers a measure of freedom
and flexibility hitherto unseen.