Canadian inroads in portable computer

Can a $3,590 IBM PC clone from Canada make it in the overpopulated American computer market? Michael Cowpland, one of the two founders of Canada's Mitel Corporation, last year branched off to form Bytec-Comtern and produce the Hyperion portable computer. Twelve thousand Hyperions have been sold since the machine was introduced in February, 1983. The company expects to sell 40,000 this year.

One sign of the Hyperion's success is that it is sold by the big Computerland chain across North America and Europe and in such high-flying retail outlets as 47th Street Photo in Manhattan.

Mr. Cowpland is chairman of the company and is still chairman of Mitel. Mitel and Bytec-Comtern are losing money, but some financial analysts point to these good signs: Mitel has finally started shipping its SX 2000 switching system - more than a year late - and the Hyperion is considered a good-quality product, selling in a market with no competition from IBM - not yet, at least.

The biggest problem Bytec-Comtern could face would be from a competitor from IBM, according to Toronto analyst John Drolet. Last month IBM announced it was producing a 30-pound ''portable'' that takes direct aim at the numerous portables on the market.

The Hyperion weighs 18 pounds and features a detachable keyboard, a seven-inch amber screen, a built-in modem, two 320K disk drives, and built-in accounting and word processing software.

Bytec-Comtern, headquartered in Montreal, was formed last year through a merger of Ottawa-based Bytec, which was responsible for developing the Hyperion, and Comtern, a Montreal-based company that manufactures IBM-compatible terminals and specializes in computer equipment for the Arab market.

Bytec-Comtern recently predicted it will increase its sales from $33 million (US) last year to $234.9 million in 1984. More than half of those sales will come from the Hyperion, predicts the company's vice-president of marketing, Stewart Bacon: ''We don't want to be dependent on just that one product.''

Among Bytec-Comtern's other basic products is a terminal that is compatible with the IBM 3270. The firm also produces the AX20 computer; up to 10,000 are being sold to schools in Quebec.

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