Trees and pets as cellphone users

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca.

Mobile Media World, a conference devoted to – well, media on mobiles – kicked off its sessions today with a number of panelists commenting on Canada's woeful cellphone penetration rate.

According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Canada has 21.5 million cellphone subscribers, or about 67 per cent of the population. That ranks us dead last in the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The reasons for this have been explained to death – part of it has to do with Canada having an excellent landline infrastructure and part of it has to do with high prices that have scared a large number of Canadians off.

Canada's wireless companies, and their supporters, have pointed out that part of our poor penetration also has to do with the fact that people in other parts of the world have more than one cellphone, or at least more than one of the SIM cards that go into the devices. This has allowed places like Italy to register well over 100 per cent of the population as having a mobile. Citizens of these countries, they say, own more than one phone to take advantage of different roaming rates when in a different country, or because they have cheaper calls on one device at a certain time of day over another.

All of that is partially true, but there's also the fact that many European and Asian countries are well ahead of Canada in taking wireless technology to the next level. As Tomi Ahonen, an author who describes himself as a "mobile evangelist," told conference attendees, wireless connections are being used in many non-human applications.

In Sweden, trees are being outfitted with SIM cards, which tell lumberers when they're ready to be cut down. In South Korea, pets are being equipped with them – owners are getting text messages telling them that Rover is at home and barking because he's hungry. Johanne Lemay, who runs a telecommunications consultancy in Montreal, summed it up by suggesting that ultimately having a mobile penetration of 500 per cent is not just possible, but "probable."

That makes you wonder – if cellphone service is so cheap in Sweden that they can afford to give it to inanimate objects and pets, how long will it be before there are more tree cellphone subscribers there than there are human customers in Canada?