CTIA Showcases a More Manageable Wireless Environment

eLaboration: Products and services that untangle incompatibilities are on tap, driven by a potentially huge, lucrative market.

I'm writing to you today from the sunny, humid environs of Orlando, Fla., where the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association is hosting its biannual wireless extravaganza-complete with blaring keynote address soundtracks, tantalizing product demos and even a personal technology fashion show.

While I've yet to encounter any stop-the-presses product announcements, this gathering of wireless device, service and middleware firms--and the customers who love to love and hate them--has served to reinforce and elaborate on certain industry truths.

First, people are willing to lug an amazing range and quantity of company-logoed junk around a trade show floor. This year, the award for the most unwieldy and improbably popular piece of trade-show tchotchke has to go to the five-foot-tall inflatable cell phones everyones been toting about-in the fully inflated form in which they're handed out. I've come to believe that people would happily carry off 50-gallon drums of toxic waste as long as they were emblazoned with tech company logos.

A second and perhaps more on-topic truth is that wireless is a mess. Competing, incompatible network technologies vie with equal vigor for supremacy over today's wireless market and for control of the directions of future networks. The same goes for devices, mobile application development environments, and the proponents of divergent spectrum-allocation schemes.

However, there's little doubt that well see some substantial untangling of the wireless knot in the short term. There's too much popular demand for wireless-and too much money to be made-to expect anything less. In fact, several of the products and services on display at CTIA point the way to a more manageable wireless environment.

One such service, Boingo, was highlighted in Monday's keynote session. Boingo is a WiFi Internet service provider that enables its users to connect to various 802.11b wireless access providers, with Boingo assuming the billing and service burden of its affiliate providers.

While still in its early stages-there aren't, for example, any Boingo-affiliated access points in my location, Boston-the Boingo concept offers a means of turning many thousands of inexpensive WiFi access sites into something approaching a single nationwide wireless broadband network.

Also encouraging have been the announcements from wireless handset giant Nokia, which has replaced its popular 6100 series of handsets with a 6300 series featuring GPRS and integrated Bluetooth-a killer combination. While mobile phone makers speak in breathless tones of MMS (Multimedia Messaging Services) that enable phone users to send a photo along with their text messages, almost any net-connected productivity tasks will require more screen real estate than tiny phone form factors can abide. In order for users to make good use of 2.5G and 3G connectivity, they'll have to turn to the larger display of a PDA or laptop-a link that Bluetooth amiably enables.

Also of note are the efforts of Nokia in bringing to market GAIT (GSM ANSI Interoperability Team)-compliant handsets, of which Nokia's 6340 is the first. GAIT handsets enable users to roam betwixt GSM and TDMA networks-a capability that could go a long way toward simplifying things for globe-hopping wireless users.

Direct your tales of treasured trade-show tchotchkes and wished-for wireless advances to [email protected]

More from CTIA:

  • AT&T Wireless Bulks Up GSM Network
  • Wireless Still Coming Up Short
  • Lucent, Verizon Wireless Team on Data Service
  • New Products at CTIA Wireless