Customers Needs Drive CTIA

Wireless industry executives discuss regulatory freedom, MVNOs, digital photo transmission and more.

NEW ORLEANS—The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association led off its spring conference with two key messages on Monday: Fight the Feds, and give the customers what they want.

In opening-day keynote speeches here, CTIA executives unabashedly lobbied for regulatory freedom, while industry executives from the worlds of music, photography and sports discussed the ubiquity of wireless technology.

"There are a few clouds on the horizon of the wireless industry," said Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, the premier wireless technology lobbyist organization, based in Washington.

Largent noted that wireless taxes increase annually and that members of Congress are considering revamping the Telecommunications Act.

"A lot of changes on the landscape are potentially dangerous to the wireless industry," Largent said. "There are forces out there who want us to do business 50 different ways in 50 different states."

With the idea that there is power in numbers, CTIA is launching an advocacy campaign and Web site called, aimed at encouraging wireless consumers to fight the same regulations and taxes that CTIA fights routinely.

While most of the attendees of the show are already sold on the necessity of wireless technology, Largent made his point with a short video clip that showed residents of Shaw, La., a remote town that had never had any phone service at all until the recent construction of cellular towers in the area—an effort spearheaded by the efforts of Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell.

One woman on the video spoke of trying helplessly to resuscitate her dying husband for more than an hour, waiting for help that didnt come because she had no phone to reach anyone.

Some of the keynote audience shifted uncomfortably during the next video, which portrayed multi-monickered media mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs declaring, without irony, "If I didnt have a cell phone or a two-way pager, I think I would suffocate. Its like air for me."

P. Diddy then took the CTIA stage in an animated but vague speech that floated between topics, including Marshall McCluhen and MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators). An MVNO is a service model in which the network service provider does not actually own any radio spectrum, but rents it from a large carrier and then offers specialized services that the carrier may not yet offer.

"I am an MVNO," P. Diddy said. He seemed to be speaking figuratively rather than literally, referring to the fans of his music, clothing line and other businesses that carry his name. Referring to his fans as "subscribers," he said hes successful because he gives the fans what they want.

"The reason theyre mine—my subscribers I mean—is because I listen to them," P. Diddy said. "Theres a lot of content out there, and it cant all be king. If content is king, you dont want just king. You want the King Kong content."

ESPN Inc. President George Bodenheimer was on hand to discuss an actual MVNO. ESPN Mobile will use spectrum from Sprint Corp. With a focus on mobile sports content, it is due to roll out within a year. Bodenheimer said that Americas passion for sports should fuel the success of the MVNO. There are currently 21 children in America named ESPN, he said. Meanwhile, a youth/music-oriented MVNO called Ampd is due to make its public debut on Tuesday. Ampd will use spectrum from Verizon Wireless.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about Earthlinks new MVNO partnership with SK Telecom.

Eastman Kodak Inc. CEO Dan Carp ran with the message of giving customers what they need, focusing on the subject of digital photo transmission. While camera-phone sales have doubled annually since camera phones were first introduced in 2000, studies show that 60 percent of camera phone users rarely or never upload their pictures onto a desktop computer, and 70 percent never share them.

"If were not careful, imaging could fade into a niche application," Carp said, adding that the wireless industry in general has to focus on needs rather than taking a "because-we-can" approach.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read Andreas Pfeiffers column on digital imaging and changes in consumer usage patterns of digital cameras, click here.

Kodak is working on various ways to improve the quality of camera-phone images and to make it easier to process a camera-phone picture, Carp said. Kodak executives showed, among many onstage demos, a prototype of a camera phone that docked directly into a printer—no desktop computer required—and printed the images stored on the phone. Officials did not say whether the phone will hit the market.

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