Mobility Will Transform Canada as It Is Transforming the World

By Dr. Sara Diamond

Dr. Sara Diamond is the President of OCAD University, Canada’s “university of the imagination”. She is a data visualization, wearable technology and mobile media researcher, artist and designer, and an appointee of the Order of Ontario and the Royal Canadian Society of Artists and a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Jul 15, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

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The Taking Ontario Mobile report was prompted by a transformation that is occurring at a global scale—the exponential adoption of mobile technologies, networks and content—and by the need to understand the potential opportunities and challenges this change may bring to Ontario and Canada. Governments at all levels can transform their relationships with their publics, businesses and internal agencies through adopting mobile strategies.OCAD University, initiated this project in collaboration with the Mobile Experience Innovation Centre, because of our belief that mobility is a burning platform that Canada can, should and must build on. Mobility has the ability to fundamentally transform cities.

The recent 2020 Media Futures report found that in a world where mobile penetration is at approximately 74 per cent according to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), there are no evident counter-trends that could stall or reverse the movement toward portability and mobility. More than half of the world’s population owns a mobile telephone, and there are 5.9 billion mobile subscribers worldwide.

Taking Ontario Mobile defines “mobility” as the capacity to move seamlessly through work, leisure and personal life wherever one is located because of four fundamental characteristics of mobile technology:

  1. 24/7 ubiquitous connectivity;
  2. intense personalization, which allows information to be delivered based on individual needs and preferences;
  3. heightened access to social networks and media; and
  4. context and location specificity, which combines the features of the Internet with the ability to take location into account.

Mobility redefines the individual as part of a network that links data, technologies, content, context and other users and systems to create a profoundly new way of being in the world.

Canada has significant mobility resources in human capital, research (research chairs, university programs, publications and patents), industrial bench strength (from strategic companies to start-ups), social infrastructure and global networks. T.O.M. explores how to build on these capacities to engage mobility in order to better realize the full potential of all of Canada’s residents, bring significant increases in productivity, create and retain jobs in the knowledge industries, allow inclusion and engagement, and build on Canada’s extant leadership in mobile industries. These jobs are drivers for economic strength with urban clusters such as Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Governments at all levels can transform their relationships with their publics, businesses and internal agencies through adopting mobile strategies. Government services can be modernized and made more efficient through mobility – current efficiency plans at all levels of government should include jump over strategies that convert paper and face to face services into mobile, location aware delivery. Governments can work in close partnership with mobile providers and developers to create new services, stimulating industry while creating efficient support. Open data repositories are a necessary underpinning of this capacity – application developers will build on top of these. Municipalities have had the most success in using mobile strategies to engage residents at all levels, from reporting pot holes to voting.

Mobile health is an ideal platform to enable a move from acute-focussed care to community and preventative care. M-Health offers revolutionary opportunities to drive down costs, support individuals and re-organize health care. Mobile health allows personalized health care, paperless health documentation that uses secure cloud services, 24/7 access to information, records that follow the patient, and rich data repositories that facilitate diagnosis and care management.  Real-time monitoring can link medical devices and sensors to smart phones and tablets. Mobile health allows top tier experts to provide support to remote locations or to health care teams. Health care will form a part of the mobile wallet.  Mobility will manage “health traffic” to clinics and emergency rooms to help reduce wait times. Mobility supports health coaching and support for preventative care.  Whatever the scale of a city and its density, mobile health can provide better support for residents of all demographics and allow aging individuals to remain fully engaged in work and leisure.

To move successfully to mobile health care we must rollout system wide solutions that build on many successful Canadian pilot projects. We will need a self-regulating industry model that supports interoperability standards. Industry and government will need to work together to establish regulatory policies and best practice guidelines that will promote the use of mobile applications in the public health care system. We will need to ensure that there are secure cloud services to protect health data. We will need to modify incentive models that support mobile health solutions as well as prevention and community care.

M-Learning enables 24/7 continuous learning in and outside of the classroom.  As youth become mobile users mobile support for learning is increasingly important from kindergarten through to workplace skills development. Mobile supports informal and formal learning, tailors learning to the individual with personalized content and support, encourages collaboration and appears to increase retention.  Location aware capacities offer learning and support on location, with exciting possibilities for augmented reality applications. And mobile learning can support remote learners, for example in Canada’s indigenous communities. Mobility allows the city to become a deep learning environment. The wholesale take-up of mobility in the emerging and developing world represent significant opportunities for institutions in Canada.

Mobile commerce represents a sea change that enables shopping and the full range of financial services through mobile devices. The in-store experience delivers information, price comparison, and purchasing. Success requires collaboration between financial institutions, ISPs and retailers. Security will be of critical importance as is consumer protection legislation that will protect personal data.  Government services should pilot the mobile wallet and municipalities can take the lead, for example in their transit systems.

Mobile entertainment provides new opportunities to build Canada’s powerful entertainment industries through the n-screen, adding multiple consumption channels and screen time.  At the same time developers represent a new segment of the industry combining technology and creative content and leverage the application store as well as the mobile web. Mobility is an extension challenge for traditional media. Mobile entertainment is “SoLoMo:  social, local and mobile.  Mobility provides accurate data tracking of users’ interests and needs providing new markets for advertising.  Mobile entertainment adds another rich layer to a city’s vibrant cultural life and tourist attractions.

Cost has often been described as an inhibiting factor in Canada. As the market opens to international competitors, pricing is expected to drop as coverage extends throughout the country. One might predict that a more open environment will have a stimulating effect on mobile development. In addition, the adoption of mobility as a requirement for doing business in many sectors continues to expand the base of those engaged in mobility. The global take-up of mobility and the expansion of the smartphone and tablet markets represent a growth business for the many Canadian companies developing applications for mobile devices, including productivity applications, utility applications, data services, games and applications that accompany or complement existing media and information franchises. To take advantage of our capacity, we need our cities to build local markets that can retain and strengthen companies; we also need to ensure that our own residents benefit from the innovation produced in Canada, yet currently primarily sold abroad, such as m-health and m-education applications. Trade associations need to fill the gap between non-mobile and mobile industries, encouraging mobile commerce and services.

In a mobile world inclusion of all residents is critical as all aspects of daily life migrate to the mobile Internet.  In Canada we still need to ensure coverage through federal/provincial/private sector collaboration in order to roll out high speed networks in rural and Northern Canada and to make certain that poor neighbourhoods and families can access m-health and m-learning.  Canada has a strong background in physical P3 infrastructure that could be applied to virtual capacity creation. We need to ensure that our own residents benefit from the innovation produced in Canada, yet currently primarily sold abroad, such as m-health and m-education applications.For providers there is increased market share as new users come on stream. For indigenous communities in Canada, whether urban or rural, the mobile Internet will provide access to healthcare, education and community connectivity.  Experiments in community owned broadband and WiFi are successful in Canada and can be generalized and programs such as Ontario’s Rural Connections program need to focus more on next generation mobile rather than fixed lines.  White spaces and WiFi provided by public institutions can support mobile access for economically challenged communities.

OCAD University’s interest in mobility is reinforced by the crucial role that design plays in creating processes, systems and products in the mobile sector. Successes in the mobile industry are the results of battles for excellent design—design that understands and responds to its users. Apple has dominated markets because of its capacity to trumpet design excellence and to continually invent new delivery systems that respond to users’ needs, such as iTunes. The failure to place design first and foremost can be seen as the Achilles heel of other companies in the mobile space. In the creation and deployment of tools and systems, it is important to build technology interfaces that offer extreme ease of use as well as personalization.

There is a role for government.  Canada will need additional spectrum if the “mobile turn” is to succeed and funds that result from the spectrum auctions need to be put back into supporting industry growth and differentiation.  Newly minted federal and provincial venture funds would do well to dedicate a portion to mobile industry.  Traditional instruments such as tax incentives remain necessary in order to intensify public/private industry collaboration and retain and attract industry in order to ensure an enhanced tax base and job creation in strategic sectors. Municipalities can lead the way in providing services, citizen engagement, m-commerce and m-tourism. Canada’s successful research efforts in wireless and mobile will need support from both public and private sources. And government has a role to play in procuring devices, applications and services. Investment in mobile skills training will be of critical importance if Canada is to succeed as demand exceeds supply in the labour market.

Canada has a unique window in which it can position itself as a centre of excellence for mobility.

There is a legacy of leading technological development, a collaborative spirit between the private sector, government, public institutions and academia, and a diverse user base that possesses the attributes necessary to be a successful “mobile” market. The quality of life and economic well-being of Canada’s residents can be radically transformed over the next decade with the possibilities that mobile technologies, networks and applications offer. Well designed, mobile devices and mobility can act as gateways and creative centres. I am optimistic about Canada’s ability to succeed in meeting the mobile challenge.


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