CTIA: Wireless Futures
The largest event of its kind in the U.S., CTIA will attract some 40,000 attendees and will turn the Las Vegas Convention Center into a hive of deal-making, technology demos, panel discussions, and speechifying from April 5th to the 7th.
Arriving on the heels of a series of major deals -- including the "merger of equals" between Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s acquisition of BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) (creating a 21st-century version of Ma Bell), and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s $14 billion sale of its Japanese assets to SoftBank Corp. -- as well as the settlement of the RIM-NTP software patent lawsuit, the rapid proliferation of wireless mesh networks across major U.S. cities, and the ratification of a standard for 802.16e, or WiMax, this year's CTIA comes at a time of fast changing alliances and dizzying technological change in the wireless industry.
Among the topics at the top of the agenda include the competition between WiMax and other high-speed wireless technologies, including next-generation cellular networks, to form the mobile broadband network of the future.
Meanwhile, the advent of Windows Mobile 5.0 has set up an increasingly fierce competition among BlackBerry , maker of the popular BlackBerry mobile email solution, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and other big players to create the platform for a host of sophisticated mobile enterprise applications running over handheld devices.
At the same time, the handset world is set to be roiled by the dawn of dual-mode devices that can run over cellular and WiFi networks, setting up a new world for mobile workers who can roam freely from office-centered wireless LANs to cellular nets to public WiFi hotspots, using the same device on each. (Just today, RIM said its BlackBerry 7270 will run over wireless LAN infrastructure from Meru Networks Inc. .)
Dual-mode devices that can hop between cellular and WiFi networks have been hyped by the industry for a year or so, and during CTIA these devices will actually show up on U.S. shores.
Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) have already shown off initial dual-mode models, although they don't appear to be for sale yet in the U.S. Analyst Jack Gold, head of J. Gold Associates, expects that other vendors will have wares to show off at the show.
"I’d expect to see Samsung and LG try to move into this space, as well as Sony Ericsson and of course RIM," he says.
The big question about these phones will be how smoothly and quickly the handoff between cellular and 802.11 networks takes place. As with WiFi VOIP systems, if there is too much of a delay in handing off between the networks -- i.e., 50-plus milliseconds -- the signal could get dropped, which is obviously unacceptable for enterprise-level systems. Unstrung will report back on this key issue for business users once we get to check out some of these phones at the show.
Devices that can tell you where you are and, possibly, where you are going should also prove to be popular in Vegas. Analyst Gold calls this "the year location-based services."
Major carriers in the U.S. have already started to offer these kinds of applications on certain phones. Cingular Wireless , Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless have all launched wireless applications recently.
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung and Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung