We bring you our highlights of CTIA wireless trade show that took place the last week of March. The show attracted more than 40,000 industry professionals to Orlando, Florida. Interestingly, there were equal number of carriers and media companies among the keynotes which again demonstrates the coming together of media companies and traditional Telco vendors. Presidential keynotes were among the highlights of the third day, where former US President George H.W. Bush gave an entertaining talk and former US President Bill Clinton motivated the crowd to expand the circle of opportunities in the wireless industry to benefit increasing number of people. US wireless data revenues were up 77% in 2006 to $15.2B, constituting about 13% of carriers total wireless revenues.
Build it and They Will Come
Major US carriers are working hard to build out their networks and provide true wireless broadband capability in hopes of launching new data-intensive applications and services. Verizon Wireless signed a $6B 3-year contract with Alcatel-Lucent to improve its CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev A network and to introduce A-IMS (Advanced IMS) services such as VoIP, push-to-x, and mobile video telephony. Sprint Nextel is spending about $3B for its Mobile WiMAX infrastructure, and plans trial launches in Q4 07. Commercial launches are scheduled in several markets by April 2008, aiming to reach 100 million people nation wide by end of 2008. Sprint will be using equipment from Motorola, Samsung, and Nokia for its infrastructure, and Samsung and ZTE for its WiMAX devices and PC cards. Cingular/AT&T plans to add High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) to its HSDPA network and is also significantly expanding its existing HSDPA markets. The company will launch a Video Share service in 50 of its HSDPA markets this summer that would allow one-way video streaming; its first IMS application. Qualcomm demonstrated Ultra Mobile Broadband technology, an upgrade to the CDMA2000 standards with solutions that would support speeds of up to 40 Mbps on the downlink and 10 Mbps on the uplink.
Devices in All Shapes and Sizes
Samsung introduced Upstage, a two-sided phone for Sprint Nextel. One side is a music/multimedia player with large screen, and the other side is a phone with small screen and a keypad. Innovative? Yes, Practical? Questionable. Motorola introduced an Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA) device: MC35 targeting field sales personnel from its Symbol Technologies division. The rugged device, expected to ship in April, includes embedded GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, EDGE, and barcode reader. HTC and Microsoft announced Shift: an Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) device running Windows Vista with WiFi and HSDPA to be released in Q3 07. The lower model is called Advantage. Another UMPC came from Flipstart. Flipstart is a clam shell device that supports Sprint's EV-DO, WiFi, and Bluetooth and is intended for mobile professionals. Sony Ericsson demonstrated its new Z750 phone, which supports Exchange email, Java, HSDPA, with a cool external "mirror" display that you may not notice until you get a call.
Mobile Content: Where Are We Today?
At Billboard's Mobile Entertainment Live event, we heard from a number of industry executives: Need for better mobile content was the message from Lucy Hood, president of Fox Mobile Entertainment. Discoverability is a "nightmare: according to Cyriac Roeding, executive VP of CBS Mobile. We also attended a great debate of Content vs Distribution represented by Disney and Cingular, respectively. Disney complained about too much friction in the development/advertisement environment April 2007 for mobile content, and lack of interoperability across carriers. Cingular agreed with the challenges but pointed out to over 61 million subscribers that are offered to content providers. What is the role of aggregators over time? Cingular sees the biggest value from aggregators for long tail content while Disney sees the key benefit of aggregators in working with smaller carriers. When will carriers open up the walled garden? Cingular pointed out to advantages of the walled garden, where carriers take care of packaging, handling, distribution, provisioning, billing, and customer care, in addition to being the data pipe. Who will do this in open Internet model? We can say a lot here but we'll save our opinion for another time and venue. User Generated Content (UGC) was another big theme in the show. AT&T keynote included a clip on their best phone video contest. Amp'd Mobile, MobiTV, Go TV all said UGC is very important to their businesses. Compensating users for their content would make it a win win situation.
Maybe Ads Will Pay for It
Mobile advertising was a huge theme at the show. Yahoo launched Yahoo Mobile Ad Network that will enable publishers to have syndicated advertising served on their mobile content and services. Yahoo's launch partners include MobiTV, Opera, and go2. Amp'd Mobile announced a deal with Third Screen Media to deliver advertising in its content offerings. Viacom announced advertising deals with Pepsi and Intel for its mobile sites and mobile TV channels. MSNBC launched its Multimedia on Mobile site that offers news and entertainment through a downloadable application. The application is "free" and supported by ads but only runs on Windows Mobile smartphones. Hovr Inc. joins likes of Greystrip Inc. as the latest vendor to offer "free" ad-sponsored mobile games. Lack of standardization and interoperability across networks and devices continue to be challenges in this area. And, at the end of the day, advertisers buy audiences not technology and tools.
Mobile Payments: All Dressed up to Go but No Devices
Mobile commerce, payment and banking have been touted as a potentially huge frontier in mobile services for quite some time now. The US payment market is estimated at $7.2 trillion. Checks and cash which make up 46% of that market are a great potential for mobile payments. A recent Booz Allen Hamilton study shows strong consumer interest in using mobile payments to replace cash. Mobile payments come in Over-The-Air(OTA) and contactless flavors. Near Field Communications (NFC) is a promising technology that enables contactless payments using mobile phones, and Visa is all over that. Visa is partnering with Cingular, Nokia, Chase Bank and NXP/Philips in NFC mobile trials in the US. The biggest challenge today is lack of NFC-enabled devices.
Location Based Services is Coming of Age
Location Based Services (LBS) is on its way to large-scale deployment. The number of GPS-enabled handsets is increasing steadily and we expect a critical mass of devices by next year. At the show, LOCAID Technologies offered a location-aware treasure hunt game, Dash for Cash, for the attendees with a chance to win $10K. Your World Games is finalizing its Shroud location-aware multiplayer game. Loopt is partnering with deCarta to provide mobile social mapping in its friend finder application.
We applaud Sprint's move to lower its OTA download music prices to $0.99/song. ZenZui, a new spin-off from Microsoft research lab, offers a new way to consume the web on mobile phones using cached content in form of customizable Tiles, also called Widgets. The application initially runs on Windows Mobile devices only, with plans to support Java and BREW later. But beware, the widget developers are marketing partners, so it is not open web. Nokia is gung-ho on Linux for its Internet tablet devices. NTT DoCoMo demonstrated Acoustic OFDM technology, where URLs or other short messages can be sent along with voice or music and be picked up by mobile phones.