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CTIA 2009: Device Preview

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor
3/27/2009

You’d never know we’re in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out recession from the constant ringing of the phone(s) here at Unstrung as we draw near to the CTIA Wireless 2009 show in Las Vegas.

While next week’s wireless event is unlikely to boast any major handset news, there is still heat around the smartphone market, which is one of the few sectors where some vendors are still making money in gadgets. There’s also increased interest in femtocells, home hubs, and all kinds of tiny wireless computing devices this year. Here’s our handy primer on what to watch for:

Smartphones & handsets
Don’t expect anything earth-shattering on the handset front, is the prediction from most analysts.

“Most vendors and carriers can no longer afford to wait for major shows to announce their biggest breakthrough products, services, or partnerships,” says Carmi Levy at AR Communications Inc. “The world moves much too quickly these days for that quaint old model to ever work again.”

Nonetheless, Levy does expect a few points of smartphone interest at the show. He is looking for “a Skype iPhone announcement” and pricing and availability details for the Palm Inc. Pre on Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)’s network. “Possibly deals with other carriers in other countries” might also be in the making, Levy believes.

”I expect the overall level of activity to be subdued because of the state of the economy,” he sums up. “But this relative quiet gives strategically minded players an opportunity to have a bigger impact if they time their announcements just so.”

Femtocells and home hubs
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) could be the big homebody at the CTIA show this year, although it isn’t giving many clues about any news at the show. The No. 1 cellular carrier in the U.S. is, however, slated to announce customer trials of its “MicroCell” 3G Femtocell soon, with a commercial launch expected in the fall. (See Cisco Femto Spotted at AT&T and CES: AT&T's Femtos in the Fall?)

The carrier is said to be working with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) on the home basestation. (See Cisco, ip.access Prep Femto Combo.) The MicroCell can support up to 10 3G phones and four simultaneous calls. It has a range of up to 5,000 square feet, and AT&T promises that users will be able to “start calls on your 3G MicroCell and continue uninterrupted even if you leave the building.” AT&T has a specifications page on the MicroCell up on its site.

Verizon Wireless , meanwhile, will definitely be showing off a “future version” of its tricked-out phone and mobile messaging unit, the Hub. Verizon launched the initial Hub and its first femto in rapid succession in February. (See Verizon's Home Hub-Bub (But No Femto) and Verizon Intros Femtocell.)

Other vendors are also talking up femtocell prospects at the show even as others get out of the market. (See RadioFrame Exits Femtocell Biz.) Continuous Computing Corp. is promising a femtocell partnership will be unveiled at the show, while even Nortel Networks Ltd. has caught wind of the promise of femtocells and will be talking about how the wee buggers can help ensure a truly reliable, high-bandwidth experience.

WiMax Devices
Much of the focus on WiMax next week is likely to be on Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)’s planned commercial launches, rather than on devices. Our colleague, Eric Zeman, over at Information Week, however, has come across a WiMax tablet from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC).

The SWD-M100 Mondi will sport a 4.3-inch touch screen with slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The package also includes a 3-megapixel camera, WiFi, microSD slot, TV-out, and Bluetooth. Zeman suggests the device could make an appearance at CTIA and arrive on the Clear network soon.

Shades of the Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) 810 tablet, anyone? (See Nokia's Bitter Pill.)

Open access devices
Talk of "open access" seems to have largely dropped off recently but might be back on the agenda at CTIA:

“Expect the major U.S. operators, notably AT&T and Verizon, to attempt to show some meaningful progress in their open development efforts,” writes analyst Mark Lowenstein in a Mobile Ecosystem report. “There will be discussion of tools/SDKs, more flexible business models, and select demos of ‘open’ devices.” — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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