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When Canadians got a glimpse of the future of cellphones

Twenty years ago, cellphones were getting more sophisticated and the business world was feeling bullish about the role they would play in our lives in the years to come.

By 2000, some mobile phones allowed you to access email or surf the web

Surfing the web on a phone?

21 years ago
Duration 2:27
In August 2000, Ron Charles gave viewers a sense of how cellphone use was likely to evolve in Canada. 2:27

Twenty years ago, cellphones were getting more sophisticated and telecom companies were feeling bullish about what that meant for their business.

"This is how most Canadians use their cellphones right now — for conversations on the go," the CBC's Ron Charles reported on The National on Aug. 21, 2000, as viewers saw footage of people using their cellphones in the then-conventional manner.

"But the telecommunications industry is betting billions of dollars people are ready to add surfing to talking."

At that time, Charles noted "the internet and email have already popped up on a few new wireless phones in Canada."

Better than what Dick Tracy had

By 2000, cellphones were growing more sophisticated and business was betting big on the market for wireless services growing in the years to come. (The National/CBC Archives)

Peter Barnes, the president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, showed off one of those features for a CBC camera — looking up the current trading values of stocks on his phone.

He drew a comparison from popular culture to tell the story of just how high-tech cellphones had become.

"It's an enhancement over Dick Tracy," he said, referencing the wrist-worn two-way radio device the well-known comic strip character had used in his fictional adventures on newspaper pages in the 1940s.

"Because what you've got is a situation where you have small, portable devices where you are able to control and personalize the device."

Paying bills on a phone...

Alistair Rennie described a world where people would be able to use their phone to pay bills. (The National/CBC Archives)

And cellphones and wireless devices, it seemed, were going to be able to allow users to do many kinds of tasks in future.

Like paying your cable television bill on your mobile phone.

"This is turning on your phone, tap pay bills from my chequing account to the cable company, $23 and you're done," said Alistair Rennie of 724 Solutions, a company that worked on software for wireless devices.

"It's about regaining time and control and simplicity. It's an ATM in your hand."

...and so much more

In August 2000, Ron Charles filed a report for The National on the trendy new cellphone features that Canada's wireless industry believed would entice Canadian consumers to sign up for wireless services. (The National/CBC Archives)

David Ticoll, an author and consultant, believed that the rolling out of wireless access would help the internet achieve its full potential.

"Well, the promise of the internet is anytime, any place computing, but, of course, that's not the reality," he told The National.

"The reality is you have to go and sit in front of your computer, it has to be connected to a wire that's plugged into the wall and furthermore, you have to be smart enough to know how to use it."

Charles noted that only a quarter of Canadians used cellphones at that time, a lower adoption rate than in some other parts of the world. 

"The industry here is counting on lower prices and new features to lure more Canadians to going wireless," he said at the end of his report.

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