A Smaller CTIA Wireless Show Still Offers Big Innovation
The wireless industry descended on New Orleans last week for the International CTIA Wireless show. Like last year’s Orlando event, the show deviated from its traditional Las Vegas venue. Typically, CTIA draws more than 40,000 attendees. No official attendance numbers have been announced for this year’s edition, but the turnout seemed lower than average this year. Some folks say that the location is to blame. In any case, the show will return to Las Vegas next May.
CTIA tries to make it an international event, but it’s still overshadowed by February’s Mobile World Congress (MWC). There’s always a huge number of new announcements at MWC, leaving CTIA with fewer introductions. Even January’s International CES, also in Las Vegas, has become a major event for mobile announcements. You have to wonder if the industry can support three big shows so close together. So far it has been able to, but vendors may not continue to do so.
CTIA always has great keynotes. Like last year, this year’s star was Jim Cramer of Mad Money hosting the CEOs of the four largest cellular operators: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The session was revealing and entertaining as the panelists chided each other about the many competitive issues that rule the business.
Another keynoter was Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Julius Genachowski. Once again, he claimed that the FCC would seek and provide new spectrum. Don’t hold your breath, but we can hope. The whole subject of spectrum shortages was again one of the biggest topics at the show. Some operators talked about spectrum refarming and trading spectrum, two potential solutions.
On the last day of the show, President Bill Clinton praised the wireless industry for its many contributions to the country and the developing nations of the world during his speech. He drew a significant contrast between the industry’s ability to cooperate and the current gridlock in Washington, noting that politicians could learn from the industry’s example.
On The Floor
Long-Term Evolution (LTE) was the big topic at the show—its gradual rollout and who’s doing what. AT&T and Verizon both have LTE now, and they’re aggressively expanding its use. T-Mobile is going to get LTE, and it has selected vendors for its infrastructure. Sprint is on the path to LTE, but via the TD-LTE (time division) route with the help of Clearwire, Qualcomm, and Sequans. Other smaller carriers are planning on eventually moving to LTE too.
There were just over 1000 exhibitors this year, and show floor was divided into TechZones such as towers, health, test, backhaul, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, retail, and other specialties. The handset guys dominated the space with dozens of new models. Most of them were showing off new LTE models. Android phones ruled, but a growing number of vendors exhibited Microsoft Windows Mobile handsets, including Nokia’s Lumina 900 and Samsung’s Focus 2.
M2M and small cells also were emphasized at the show. M2M is growing fast and poised to be a great new revenue generator for carriers (see “Mobile M2M To Make A Splash At CTIA 2012”). Small cells are getting lots of attention because of their potential to bring us to LTE sooner and to minimize the spectrum shortage problem. The backhaul companies announced several solutions for the coming small-cell explosion.
Other major subjects at the show included the eventual appearance of Voice over LTE (see “Test Set Evaluates LTE Voice Quality”) and the slow incorporation of near-field communications (NFC) to implement mobile payment systems. Software and apps were more noticeable than hardware this year too. And, retail items like cell-phone cases, chargers, and other accessories were well represented.
CTIA offers something for everyone. Like other big shows, there’s too much there for any one person to comprehend. Attendees need to focus if they want to understand anything with any kind of depth. Yet it’s a good show that reflects the trends and concerns of the industry, and it’s always worth attending.
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