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MobileMondayToronto – Striving for Canadian Leadership in Global Mobile

by Randall on October 2, 2009 · 2 comments

Posted in: Business Strategy,Economics,Investing,Public Policy,Randall Howard,Startups,Wireless

Mobile Monday Toronto @ MaRSThrough the 1960’s, 1970’s and into the early 1980’s, Canada leveraged many of its best minds to develop technology solutions that span the great distances and empty spaces in our vast country to position Canada as a world leader in Telecommunications. Today, numerous examples from world leading companies like Blackberry to startups like Viigo or Iotum continue to show world leadership.

Notwithstanding these points of strength,  in the early 21st Century, there are surprising gaps in our global ability to compete, given our early leadership. The causes are many from regulation, standards, finance and even investment decisions of major carrier players. While there are individual success stories, like the Blackberry, there are also numerous structural issues that dampen our natural competitive position in this all important industry.

We’ve assembled a diverse team of some of the top players shaping our mobile futureo help us understand Canada’s position in the global mobile industry, where the opportunities lie and changes in policy and investment that might allow us to maximize our footprint in the future mobile industry:

  • Bob FerchatBob Ferchat – a Canadian mobile pioneer at the epicentre of the aforementioned world class Canadian telecom and mobile industry. Bob was  CEO of Nortel Networks and later of Bell Mobility. Now retired, he has maintained a passion to continue Canadian mobile leadership. Most notably, a few months ago, he led a group of investors that tried to buy back Nortel to keep that treasure trove of technology intellectual property in Canadian hands Ottawa Citizen – Fight for Nortel Wireless in Full Swing.
  • Karna GuptaKarna Gupta – From an early career in various senior executive positions at Bell Canada, Karna has held numerous and diverse C-level positions in global mobile and enterprise software companies, including Comverse, Sitraka Mobile and OSS Solutions. Most recently, he was CEO of Certicom through their recent acquisition by RIM, that also included fighting a hostile takeover bid. Karna brings a great international perspective from a diverse set of predominantly software-based initiatives.
  • Steven WoodsSteven Woods – Currently heading up Google’s Waterloo site, which has a significant mobile product mandate including search and GMail, Steve recently returned to Canada from a decade in the Silicon Valley. He was founder of NeoEdge Networks and co-founder of Quack.com (acquired by AOL), both Silicon Valley-Ontario operations. It would appear that Steve and his team are in the centre of the new web-based mobile world that Google is helping to shape.

There is a huge opportunity for Canadian companies, and our entire economy, but to seize that opportunity good policy and well informed decision makers is important. To  that end, we’ll answer questions about the mobile tech company ecosystem like:

  • How did we get where we we are today?
  • How do we compare with the world?
  • What policies and initiatives might improve our competitive position?
  • What are some of the major gaps that Canada might be well positioned to fill?

Although, with the generous assistance of sponsors, this is a free event, you’ll need to register and it may well sell out. More information and the registration can be found here: Mobile Monday Toronto @ MaRS – Cnadian Leadership in Mobile and Communications.

I’d be very interested if people would comment on any topics or issues you wish to have raised. Even better, come out and ask those questions yourself. It promises to be an insightful evening.

About Randall

Randall Howard is a serial entrepreneur and long term technologist with a passion for social innovation.

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  • Several people have asked how last night’s panel went. In fact, it all went very well, and people seemed to genuinely enjoy and learn from the conversation. Of course, it helps to have such a talented (and opinionated) panel to work with.

    It also helped that mere minutes prior to the panel Twitter intelligence caught the Bell/Telus announcement of imminent launch of iPhone on their networks which will henceforth be provisioned with world standard GSM/HSPA. This will enable a game changing level of competition, for the first time, in Canadian mobile just as the smartphone/ data-driven mobile revolution really gets underway.

    There will be a full audio and video broadcast of the panel in a few days and I’ll post that.

    Meanwhile, for those who asked, here are some of the key points:

    unlike the inherently open web, the mobile ecosystem is currently more controlled, with that control being a delicate balance (arm wrestle?) among the needs of carriers, phone manufacturers and application (content) developers/suppliers.

    for many historical reasons, including a weak or ill-conceived regulatory environment, competitive intensity among the mobile carriers is much less in Canada making it harder for startups to use their local Canadian market as a world class test bed. Although the panel strongly advocated improved government regulatory frameworks to help fix this, most felt that would take too long and hence encouraged work arounds.

    in the triad of carriers, handset manufacturers and applications, it was felt that, in the long run, applications would, as the greatest source of value, be the winning driver. Furthermore, the power of new entrants like Apple and Google into the mobile ecosystem was helping to break down some of the barriers to entry caused by carrier inertia.

    So true is this that it was felt possible that the new applications software distribution channels, like AppStore, App World, etc. might be the new carriers – hence reducing the traditional carriers to a “dumb pipe” role.

    the mobile industry was seen as becoming pervasive in IT – in effect, the internet is becoming the mobile internet, meaning that all IT players need to have a strong mobile strategy.

    all panelists stressed that mobile startups need to focus on the global market and to be globally competitive Many times, this means designing products that might not (yet) make sense in the more conservative or constrained Canadian mobile landscape.

    Lastly, panellists identified signficiant opportunites in such areas as:
    – financial applications, payments, etc.
    – mobile web-enabled consumer applications.
    – mobile security.

    We covered a lot of territory and there were a lot of great insights, so let me know if I missed anything.

  • For those who couldn’t attend, the Video feed for MobileMonday Toronto Oct 5th Leadership panel is now online here:

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