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Bell Mobility May Abandon Paging

OTTAWA—Thinking of buying a one-way FLEX or two-way ReFLEX pager from Canada's Bell Mobility? Think again.

Bell Mobility is advising potential customers that it may not be able to continue paging services beyond May of next year, according to a notice on the Bell Mobility Web site. "This is the result of a recent announcement by the company that supports the network infrastructure on which Bell Mobility pagers and ReFLEX [two-way] messaging are based. This company advised us that it is getting out of the network support business in May next year."

"This company" refers to Duluth, Ga.-based Glenayre Technologies Inc. Faced with what the carrier-grade platform provider calls "the continued rapid decline in both the paging infrastructure market and certain paging carriers' financial health," Glenayre announced in May that it would stop serving this market within a year.

Bell Mobility isn't the only Canadian paging company that relies on Glenayre; PageNet Canada does, too. But Bell Mobility is the only one to publicly voice doubts about the future of its FLEX/ReFLEX products, to the extent of advising customers that "before you purchase your pager, there are a couple of important things you should know."

So what gives? According to Toronto telecom analyst Ian Angus, Bell Mobility is faced with a serious dilemma. It contracted Glenayre to service and support its FLEX/ReFLEX transmission network. With Glenayre moving out of the picture, Bell Mobility doesn't have anyone in-house to take up the slack for its 755,000 paging customers. "This puts them in a pretty bad pickle," Angus says.

As for PageNet Canada? "Paging and wireless messaging is our only business, and we have access to other strategic partners and other suppliers," says Garry Fitzgerald, the company's president and CEO.

Bell Mobility's decision to post such a dire warning would seem bad for business–especially since the company itself says, "At the very least, Bell Mobility's paging and ReFLEX [two-way] messaging systems will be fully operational and fully functional until May 2002." But spokeman Norm Berberich says that it was the only responsible thing to do.

"If we're the only ones you've heard about [that have issued a public warning, then] we're the only ones that are communicating these things in a customer-friendly and supplier-friendly way," Berberich says. "All we've told our customers is that Glenayre has pulled out of the business, and this means there's uncertainty in the paging industry.

"We're watching the situation closely, and we'll be in a better position to assess what kind of business decisions we'll have to make in the fourth quarter."

Angus, however, is a bit more skeptical. In his view, Bell Mobility's warning is a case of the company simply "covering" itself. In other words, if people buy Bell Mobility pagers now, and Bell discontinues its FLEX/ReFLEX paging services next May, the Web site warning should prevent subscribers from suing. At least, that's the idea.

But will things really get to that point? After all, although it's suffering, FLEX/ReFLEX paging is far from dead, and some observers find it hard to believe that another company won't pick up where Glenayre leaves off–not if there's money to be made.

Still, Bell Mobility's apparent decision to cover itself remains alarming. Clearly, there are those in Canada who have serious doubts about the future of FLEX/ReFLEX paging

Source:  Bell Mobility May Abandon Paging, By James Careless, WirelessWeek - August 27, 2001

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