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Cyberspace and suds: bright new phones.

It's 5:30 on a Wednesday night at the Winnipeg Winter Club and about 35 members of the Cyberspace and Suds gang are on hand to hear a lecture close to their heart - project funding money.

Eating pizza and drinking beer are members of companies who are part of what has been called the 'new business wave' - the multi-media service sector. These small firms formed a little more than five years ago to capitalize on the use of new technology in business. They are doing between $1 million and $3 million gross revenues annually and they all want to get bigger.

Their work ranges across the board from design websites, to combining music and video for company presentations or storage and retrieval of information. They cover a variety of clients such as libraries or other special data related applications such as product catalogues.

Joel Remis, 43, is the president and owner of Ironstone Technologies. A law graduate, Remis had more interest in the possibilities of using CD-Rom to store and reuse information of all kind. So, he became a one-man company which has grown to four employees. Remis' company is a digital software duplicator and sells equipment which allows people to replicate CD-ROM information.

He is chairman of this informal group, known as New Media West and are connected with the vestiges of a couple of former technology departments in the Manitoba Government now known as ManCet.

Says Remis, "the reason for the group is to form a single point of contact with the government for the digital information sector in order for them to formulate policy."

Brian Wood is with the executive director of New Media West, and is employed by ManCet. "We're here to serve the digital, multi-media environment in the province and connected with other similar groups both private and public within the national arena."

Such proactive tactics it is hoped the Manitoba group will hold its own nationally.

They'll eventually fade away like 8-track tape players. That's the prediction for the type of cellular telephone 13% of Canadians are currently using. Robert MacKenzie, Vice President of Digital PCS for Rodgers Cantel Inc., says analog phones (which work by sending radio signals) are now old technology. I don't think you'll be able to buy a new analog cell phone in three years," he predicts.

What is pushing analog off the technology map is digital. The new telephones work something like the modem attached to your computer.

They turn your voice into numbers, send the encrypted messages to a nearby tower, which passes the signal along until it gets to the telephone at the other end where the encryption process is reversed and you can close a business deal from your car.

Cantel is the only major player in Canada with an operating digital cellular network. The Toronto-based firm launched digital in Montreal last November and rolled-out to nine other cities including Winnipeg) on May 15. By the end of the year, the entire country will be digitized by Cantel. By then Mobility hopes to be pushing digital itself. The MTS cellular division, which currently serves 100,000 customers in this province, is way behind Cantel in offering digital cellular service to Manitoban's.

Dennis Jones, General Manager Business Development for MTS Mobility, says there is a solid reason the newly privatized company is trailing the competition. "We elected to go with a very, very new technology that's not ever been seen in the market until the last 12 months." Jones refers to the signal formatting system - called CDMA - Mobility is presently perfecting. Cantel uses TDMA. The differences between the two are something like the old battle between VHS and Beta. Both Jones and MacKenzie agree that signal formatting systems is something tech-heads enjoy - for the general public, both senior telecommunications executives prefer to boast of the breakthroughs available because of digital cellular.

The new system offers far superior quality than the present analog.

Both men say the new wireless technology rivals the crisp clarity of a wireline call. In most cases the crackling and popping common to analog calls is gone. Security is also higher with digital cell - it takes much more than a $300 scanner to listen in on your calls if you are using digital cellular. Caller ID, text messages (similar to those now received by sophisticated pagers) and even the ability to receive e-mail are part of what digital offers that analog cannot.

MacKenzie says perhaps the biggest advantage is the longer battery life (almost 400% greater than the life of an analog battery) and the exact pricing available with digital. Cantel's business packages allow for billing to the nearest second. That means you no longer pay for time you do not use. MacKenzie estimates this new feature will save business users 20% - 25% a month.

Both MTS Mobility and Cantel insist that the present analog cell phone users will always have a home in the now digital world. However, as MacKenzie says, who wants to be stuck with an 8-track when everyone else is playing CD's?
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Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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