INSIDE WIRELESS: Major Themes at CTIA Wireless 2009

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2009-04-28

INSIDE WIRELESS: Major Themes at CTIA Wireless 2009

When I first arrived in Las Vegas for the annual CTIA Wireless show, I thought it might be just like the old days, with hundreds of people in line. I couldn't help but ask, "Why in the world did they spend tens of millions, if not more, on developing a nice monorail system to connect all the hotels with the convention center, but then didn't complete the system by connecting it to the airport?"

The taxi lobby likely made strong threats if one of their primary sources of revenue was to be cut off. It would have made more sense to extend the monorail to the airport than to have approved the $10 billion City Center project, which stands there almost completed and empty. As Anderson Cooper loves to say, "What were they thinking?"

The attendance for this year's CTIA Wireless conference was way down. It felt like attendance was around half of what it was last year. I've said it before: the most valuable space at the show is the hundreds of meeting rooms stuck off in Central Hall C5-at the far end of the show. Here, vendors rented rooms for meetings with press, analysts and customers.

I spent 80 percent or more of my time shuttling from one meeting room to another (often with a place to sit down and some refreshments while you talked). I never had a chance to "walk the floor." But I still must have walked over five miles during the conference. CTIA is becoming a fitness event!

Another sign of the down economy: Did anyone go, by mistake, and visit the North Hall? Oh dear, it was the Car Wash show going on at the same time. I mean, it appears they actually get together to talk about new technology for washing cars. Amazing.

Every time I attend a major show such as CTIA, I tell myself over and over that I'm never going to do this again. I had about 30 meetings during the two days I was there, was totally exhausted at the end of both days, and kept asking myself why I continue to put myself through this. The answer is that there are always a few meetings that really surprise me and get me to think, "Well, I guess this crazy scheduling made the trip worthwhile after all."

Eight Major Themes Emerge from CTIA

Eight major themes emerge from CTIA

From my view, here were the eight major themes at CTIA this year:

Theme No. 1: Application stores

Application stores are the new trend in mobile. They exist for operating platforms such as Apple, Google and RIM to have on-device portals in which users can explore and download applications directly, rather than having to go to another place (such as a Web site) or having a limited number of operator-controlled applications stored on the device (as it was done in the Wireless Application Protocol days).

Theme No. 2: Platforms

Clearly, the six major smart phone platforms are becoming the major force in the industry and the primary paradigm with which users interact. The six platforms are Windows Mobile, Apple iPhone, Google Android, RIM BlackBerry, Nokia's Symbian and Palm WebOS.

Theme No. 3: Multi-modal services

More service providers (operators and major partners) are modernizing their 3G service offerings to provide inter-application interaction that provide new ways to interact. You can now listen to your voice mail within e-mail or see your voice mail on the screen (visual voice mail) or see a threading of communication that includes Short Message Service (SMS), Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) and e-mail.

Theme No. 4: More mobile applications being used

We'll see a growing number of applications used by mobile users, as they are designed well, provide a good user experience and are more easily accessed via the platform app store.  Take a look at the way BlackBerry presents the applications in their new App World store. It's visual, informative and inviting. A far cry from a list in some folder that doesn't tell you very much.

Theme No. 5: Long Term Evolution

It seemed everyone was talking about Long Term Evolution (LTE), the next generation of wireless data services. It will provide 100M bps download and up to 50M bps upload. Operators are scheduled to bring LTE online beginning in 2010. Here's a chart showing the summary of LTE compared to past and recent generations:

Theme No. 6: Seamless Sync

Theme No. 6: Seamless sync

I once spoke at an Intellisync event and said that sync works best when it disappears; that it works best when it is operating in the background without the user having to directly participate in the syncing process. Take MobileMe, My Phone and Good Mobile Portal. They all synchronize the user's contacts, calendar, e-mail and photos with their PCs, Macs, the Web and the user's phones. And they do it seamlessly and automatically operating in the background.

Theme No. 7: Mobile Internet Devices

I talked with Intel about how they see the Atom processor migrating into a number of different Mobile Internet Devices (MID) that will provide Web access, multimedia and applications in small form factor devices (typically 4-inch to 6-inch displays).

Theme No. 8: Netbooks

Watch for more Netbooks to be bundled with wide area wireless data services. We'll see more offers like the one at RadioShack that provides an Acer Aspire One at $99.99 with a two-year data plan agreement with AT&T Wireless.

Finally, at the show I also got to see a number of old friends (oops, I mean, friends I have known a long time). I also got to spend time with the Palm Pre, soon to be announced by Sprint. It's very impressive and well-thought-out. It's intuitive. It's also great to see someone like Palm step up to the plate and develop something really good.

Overall, I'm pleased to see the maturity in the mobile market. It's clear that users' experiences are becoming better and more enjoyable.

 J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is the VP and Chief Analyst with the Frost & Sullivan North American Information & Communication Technologies Practice. As a nationally-recognized industry authority, he focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches over 100,000 readers per month.

For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column.  If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.

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