How Canada can lead in telecom innovation once again

As appeared in Globe and Mail, September 2013.

Imagine technology solutions that could help save $400-billion in healthcare costs, reduce the average commute time by one full week annually, and cut carbon emissions by 27 million tonnes in developed and developing countries. Sound like fiction? These and many other capabilities will be powered by the next great wave of wireless innovation, and they are within our reach.

Our country has demonstrated global leadership in the innovation of communications technologies for over a century. As we usher in a new wireless era, Canadian companies can lead the world once again – and Canadians will reap the benefits.

But as nations around the world aggressively compete for this role, it begs the question: How can we help our firms gain the greatest competitive edge and fully capitalize on this opportunity?

You might know this next era of innovation as the ‘Internet of Things’– a wireless revolution enabled by machine-to-machine (M2M) technology and connected devices. M2M technology connects sensor-based objects, enabling them to talk to each other and take action without human intervention. This technology already remotely monitors everything from the traffic on our streets, to the energy usage in our homes, and even medical devices in our bodies such as pacemakers and blood sugar monitors.

But this is just the beginning. Today, mobile technology empowers the individual. Tomorrow, M2M technology will revolutionize the marketplace, industry, and the way we live. It will spawn new products, processes and business models that boost our national productivity and global competitiveness. And when combined with cloud computing and big data analytics, M2M solutions will help us address some of the greatest challenges we face as a society.

This wave of innovation also brings a unique economic opportunity to our door. There will be an estimated 50 billion connected devices around the world by the end of the decade, creating a $14.4-trillion business opportunity. With the peak of this market about 36 months way, it is a global export opportunity that Canada cannot afford to miss.

As a nation, we are already well positioned to seize a leadership role in M2M innovation. Canada is home to M2M pioneers like Sierra Wireless, a company that has delivered M2M solutions for almost a decade. Sierra Wireless was among the first in the world to bring cellular connected devices to market and today, the firm has supplied more than 50 million M2M devices to customers in 130 countries including multinationals like Cisco, GE, Honeywell, and Chrysler. For more than a year, Nespresso has been using Sierra Wireless’s remote management solution inside its professional coffee machines, enabling the company to dramatically change the customer experience and increase profitability.

Sendum Wireless Corporation has also developed wireless location devices for more than 10 years. This SME combines wireless and Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies to create package-tracking solutions that are small, low cost and offer long battery life. These ‘made-in-Canada’ devices are already deployed across North America. They can monitor the temperature and humidity inside a package, determine whether contents are exposed to light, and provide data on how the package is handled. Today, Sendum technology is deployed by world-leading couriers, major pharmaceutical companies, retailers and security agencies to track shipments, combat theft and fight crime.

Ottawa-based QNX Software Systems (a subsidiary of Blackberry) is celebrating 33 years in business – and is a global leader in providing M2M solutions. International companies such as Audi, Cisco, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Siemens depend on QNX technology for vehicle infotainment units, networking equipment, medical devices, industrial automation systems, and security and defense systems. For example, the QNX-based OnStar system, deployed in dozens of vehicle models, automatically calls for help in a crash and provides emergency responders with an exact location.

These are just a few of the ‘made-in-Canada’ M2M solutions that are driving innovation, productivity and profitability in a host of industrial sectors. However, to fully exploit this potential we must take action now. M2M is a game changer. Fierce competitors are already threatening Canada’s leadership position in this space. Nations such as Finland, Sweden, Korea, Germany and the U.S. are embracing national M2M strategies to build long-term competiveness – and they are fuelling them with public and private investment dollars.

It is imperative for Canada to capture our share of the global M2M market. While early leaders like Sierra Wireless, Sendum, and QNX are paving the way for us, we must build on these inroads by leveraging our technological and business strengths, and investing in M2M innovation. To help Canadian companies capture the greatest value from the Internet of Things, industry and government must come together and:

  • Pool industry resources and expertise to create a wireless ecosystem with critical mass and the right mix of companies required to create M2M solutions with applications across the economy;
  • Promote Canada’s wireless brand both domestically and internationally, to increase the visibility and credibility of Canadian firms with prospective customers; and
  • Facilitate federal and provincial collaboration, engaging organizations that focus on global commerce, to help Canadian companies capitalize on this emerging export opportunity.

We are at an important crossroads. With a strategic and collaborative approach, Canadian companies can lead this next wave of wireless innovation, and leverage M2M technology to address key customer, business and societal challenges. It is an opportunity to increase our productivity, global competitiveness and quality of life. In the words of futurist, Frank Ogden, “As the bulldozer of change rolls over our planet, we have a choice: to become part of the bulldozer, or part of the road.” The choice is ours – and Canada’s chance to lead M2M innovation is riding on it.

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