CTIA & the Invisible Handsets

This year's CTIA show in Las Vegas, which starts next week, will be defined as much by the devices and software that aren't launched there as those that are.

The year has so far been defined by continued intense interest in the iPhone and the buzz around Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android cellphone operating system. This is likely to continue to be the case at the Las Vegas Convention Center next week, albeit leavened with a sharper focus on next-generation wireless network technology such as WiMax and other infrastructure that can be used over 700 MHz spectrum.

"I think a lot of what in past years would have been released at a major industry tradeshow like CTIA is increasingly breaking beforehand," Carmi Levy, senior VP of strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc.

"The era of major announcements being reserved exclusively for major tradeshows is drawing to a close. Blame the Internet for making vendors reluctant to embargo news of the next big thing until a show." "On the handset side, some Android prototypes would be nice to see," comments Ken Hyers at Technology Business Research Inc. (TBR) . "I’m hoping for some good fights over open-access or new unlimited pricing plans from the operators to spice things up, but am not holding my breath."

That doesn't mean that no big names will be making a splash in Glitter Gultch. Windows Mobile 6.1, the latest makeover of the Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) device operating system, is hotly anticipated.

"Everyone is counting the days until Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.1 release," Levy says. "I'll be looking for specific product announcements from hardware vendors to accompany the Microsoft announcement. Those that bring WM6.1-based products to market sooner will gain competitive advantage... Expect the changeover to Windows Mobile 6.1 to be largely complete by early 2009."

"I expect Microsoft to make announcements," confirms Ken Dulaney at Gartner Inc.

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), however, isn't expected to bring the long-anticipated 3G iPhone out to play at CTIA. The new iPhone is to be unveiled this summer, many analysts predict.

Gartner's Dulaney has been quoted on the Web suggesting that Apple has already placed an order for 10 million 3G iPhones, but he says in email to Unstrung that he was actually speculating on size of a possible 3G order.

"What I said was that 10 million would be a reasonable order if they had placed one," he clarifies. "No idea on ship dates."

Another much talked-about touchscreen device, from BlackBerry , is not expected to debut at CTIA either. The upcoming 9000-series is seen as the BlackBerry maker's answer to the iPhone. (See RIM's Touching New BlackBerry Plans.)

"RIM continues to deny rumors than its 9000-series devices will ship by midyear -- which likely means that we'll be able to touch, play with, and buy the first such devices by early summer," says AR's Levy. "This release is pivotal for RIM as it braces for an intensified battle against Apple for both enterprise and consumer smartphone supremacy."

Google's Android handsets and initial WiMax devices for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s network will be the wild cards at the show.

"We'll probably see some Android prototypes," suggests Levy.

"This will continue the trend we've seen over the past few months as members of the consortium try to maintain and grow interest in the still-evolving platform... It's vital for all involved vendors to keep their wares -- however half-baked they may be at this point -- visible to a buying public that's still trying to figure out where this offering will fit in the evolving smartphone space."

"We may see some WiMax device announcements, but they will hardly be from mainstream players," Levy adds. "The lack of a comprehensive national WiMax network makes such device announcements little more than inconsequential sideshows."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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