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More than 40 per cent of "hyperconnected" employees have sent a text message to work from bed, according to a study for Toronto-based Nortel. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

Canada is the least connected country in a 17-nation study by Nortel Networks Corp. on technology and telecommunications usage, raising concerns about our ability to compete in the global economy.

The "hyperconnectivity" study, released Tuesday by Framingham, Mass.-based global technology analysis firm IDC and funded by Toronto-based Nortel, measured how many devices and communications applications were used by people in the workforce. A worker who used seven devices, such as a cellphone, MP3 player or laptop, and nine applications, such as e-mail, video conferencing or a blog, was considered "hyperconnected," while one who stuck to e-mail, desktop internet access and voice calls on a cellphone was a "barebones" user.

About 16 per cent of the workforce in the countries studied is hyperconnected, with another 36 per cent on their way to joining that category as the pace of connection accelerates. About 28 per cent of the workforce is of the "barebones" variety.

China ranked first in total number of hyperconnected workers, while Russia had the highest percentage of increased hyperconnectivity. Canada, along with the United Arab Emirates, had the fewest number of hyperconnected workers.

IDC said poor rankings were reflected by a number of factors, including the size of companies operating in the different markets. Countries with a large number of medium-sized businesses, such as China, India and Germany, tended to have a larger number of well-connected workers. Countries with a large number of big or small companies, such as Mexico and Brazil, yielded a lower level of hyperconnected employees. Small companies cannot afford to be well-connected while bigger firms are generally slow to invest in new technology, IDC said.

Canada's poor showing was also explained by several other factors, according to Kelly Kanellakis, strategy and operations leader for the chief technology officer of Nortel, which is North America's largest maker of telecommunications equipment. First off, Canada does not yet have access to a number of devices, such as Apple's iPhone or the Amazon Kindle, or online applications such as movie and music downloads from the likes of TiVo and Napster.

Canadian structure is lagging

Canada is also hampered by a telecommunications structure that is behind other countries, he said, as well as an attitude that things that happen in the rest of the world don't affect us. (Nortel derives more than half its revenue from selling telecommunications infrastructure in North America.)

"The structure of Canadian telecom is just not at that place yet where we're doing more and more of that," he said. "We're being laggards in this case."

"One of the biggest things that we have noticed, and we've seen it over and over again, is that something will come out in other parts of the world — some sort of technology, capability or usage pattern — and what we haven't done is prepare for it because we constantly think of ourselves as being immune to it," Kanellakis said. "Every time, it comes here and it catches us unprepared and then we have to scramble to catch up."

Kanellakis said text messaging was one example of how Canada missed the boat. While texting makes up a huge portion of cellphone revenue in other countries, in Canada it is minimal — and users' attitudes is thus reflective. In the study, 52 per cent of respondents in China said they were willing to send a business text message while on vacation, while only 11 per cent of Canadians said the same.

The hyperconnectivity study is known as a "white paper," which telecommunications equipment makers periodically commission in order to encourage investment by businesses and governments. Such documents often identify problems and suggest solutions to them.

The IDC survey, which polled 2,400 working adults, also found — not surprisingly — that work is increasingly blending with personal time. More than 40 per cent of hyperconnected respondents, for example, said they had sent a text message to work from their bed.

This will only increase, Kanellakis said, as more young people who are always connected enter the workforce.

The study provides a warning for Canada and other laggards to prepare for the coming wave of workers who demand hyperconnectivity, Kanellakis said. Businesses will have to revamp their privacy policies and invest in equipment in order to keep pace with other companies, according to the study.

"At least this is the early-warning sign," he said. "We see the trend and it's happening in the rest of the world — it's even happening in the U.S. — it's not that long before it's going to happen here."