British Columbia’s wireless industry has matured more quickly than many had expected, according to a new survey. The study reveals the province’s wireless sector has evolved over the past two years from one focused on product development to one in which making money and growing market penetration is key.  Conducted by the Wireless Innovation Network of British Columbia (WINBC) and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the study also estimates B.C.-based wireless companies generated revenue in excess of $1 billion last year. Revenue generated by the companies participating in the survey totaled about $650 million. Caroline Lewko, president of WINBC, says it was essentially common knowledge that the province’s wireless companies were doing well, but the survey did reveal some surprises. "We knew were getting customers and making revenue, but we probably didn’t think it was to the extent that it was…Our companies are maturing," she tells Report on Wireless.  "This survey revenue total is a low estimate of the province’s actual industry total. When combined with operators’ B.C.-based revenue and that from B.C.-based wireless companies that did not provide revenue data, actual revenues for the sector may exceed $1 billion," reads the report. Rogers Wireless, Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility didn’t provide revenue figures for the survey. Most of the companies that participated in the survey were application and product developers and small service providers.  There are several indicators in the report that illustrate the evolving B.C wireless industry. In 2001, for example, 10 companies accounted for 95% of the revenue generated by the entire industry. The 2004 numbers show those 10 companies aren’t producing as much of the revenue: the 10 companies generated 80% of revenue.  Another indicator is that 84% of wireless companies in the province have at least one reference customer. As the chart below illustrates, more than half of firms in the province have at least 10 reference customers.  Lewko says this is a good indication B.C.’s smaller wireless companies have shifted from developing wireless platforms to focusing on selling products. "They’re getting good traction in the market…They were developing wireless platforms (in the past) to build their applications and to build out the technologies that they were doing. Now they’re really focusing on vertical markets," she states.  Another surprise in the report is that the majority of revenue generated by British Columbia wireless companies comes from Canada as opposed to foreign markets. Approximately 44% of all revenue was generated by sales in the province and the rest of Canada (see chart for details on other geographic regions).  Lewko was surprised that more revenue wasn’t coming from the Asian market given British Columbia’s proximity to what is the world’s largest consumer of wireless services. She says part of the reason for this low level of revenue is Asian markets take longer to get into. "I think is growing and I believe that it will grow because a lot of companies are spending a lot of time there," she tells RoW.  While the industry is experiencing healthy growth and good traction as is illustrated by the increase in companies with actual customers in the market, there are challenges ahead for British Columbia’s wireless companies. Lewko highlights staffing and financing as two major issues to be confronted over the next few years.  For the most part, there haven’t been, to date, significant staffing shortages for the province’s wireless companies. "We’ve got good students coming out of the universities," says Lewko, adding that skilled people were available after some companies left the province. She notes that even in the case of Sierra Wireless Inc.’s decision to close down or divest its Voq product line, "those people have been able to find jobs pretty much no problem."  But she cautions staffing could be a problem down the road. "If we’re going to maintain the growth levels that our companies say that they’re going to , it could be an issue," she adds. Financing is the other major problem B.C.-based wireless companies will have to face in the near future. Three-quarters of the province’s wireless firms are privately held, and most of their financing to date has come from friends and family, government and angel investors. An equal number of them indicated in the survey that they plan to seek external funding over the next two years.  "Those are tapped out and they recognize that they are going to have to go out and get money from VCs (venture capitalists) and more than likely outside of B.C.," Lewko explains.  Region gaining exposure  Lewko says representatives from Siemens AG were in Vancouver last week to take a look at the wireless industry and the region as a place to do business. She isn’t too concerned, however, that the association and its member companies don’t get more coverage or exposure in central Canada, because most of the opportunities are along the U.S. west coast. "That’s where a lot of the dollars are for our companies and a lot of customers are, too," she states.