CTIA is the Wireless Association, an international non-profit organization with members who are the main players in the cellular and wireless sectors such as the cellular carriers, phone and infrastructure manufacturers, service providers and others making or selling related products and services. For years CTIA has put on an annual conference in the spring and another in the fall. The conference is a large one with tens of thousands of attendees. It is not a large as Mobile World Congress in Barcelona each year in February, but still a major event. The CTIA event this week was not as large as usual and will be the last spring conference. Next year both CTIA events will be rolled into one big new conference combined with 4G World and others in September in Las Vegas.
CTIA this year was different. In the past, the main focus was on the introduction of the newest handset and tablet models. This year the conference was more about new services and technologies. It was I think a view of what the future of cellular is.
Without question, the cellular industry is a very healthy one. Consider some of these major statistics released by the CTIA. In the U.S. as of 2012, there were 326.4 million subscribers meaning a 102% population penetration. Almost half of those subscribers have a smartphone and another 22.3 million have a connected tablet. Total minutes of use totaled 2.3 trillion. SMS texts numbered 2.19 trillion. Astonishing figures. Mobile is definitely dominant in our life today. For more details like this you can go to www.ctia.org.
Two major concentrations in the sessions and exhibits this year were small cells and M2M. Small cells are the miniature basestations and access points that will make up the forthcoming heterogeneous network or HetNet. The HetNet is an overlay of current macro base station coverage to improve reliability, expand capacity and boost data speeds. The small cells are short range basestations to provide overall better coverage especially for the latest 4G technology LTE. Small cells will also include carrier grade Wi-Fi access points that many carriers are installing for offloading the data content from the basestations. Wi-Fi is fast and inexpensive and an excellent alternative to carrying data over the high priced cellular network. There were a good number of small cell manufacturers and Wi-Fi providers showing off their latest systems.
M2M was the other major emphasis this year. Machine-to-machine connectivity is one of the fastest growing segments of the cellular business. With handset saturation already occurring in the U.S. and other areas of the world, carriers are looking for M2M to provide continued revenue increases in the future. M2M covers a huge range of applications the biggest being transportation with truck/fleeting monitoring and tracking and automotive telematics. Other major applications include smart grid connectivity, health and fitness monitoring, industrial monitoring and control and many others. The various applications embed a cellular transceiver in the device or object to be controlled or monitored. Then the carriers or third party vendors provide connection services. Dozens of M2M companies were present at CTIA and many sessions were devoted to this huge and growing area.
The exhibits were divided into zones of interest and concentration. Amongst them was the test and measurement zone where vendors show equipment for testing LTE, LTE-Advanced, MIMO, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Wi-Fi. The tower and small cell zone covered small cells, towers and accessories as well as antennas. The backhaul sector showed off the latest microwave backhaul options that are critical to LTE performance as well as the coming small cell expansion. There were also zones for the connected home and connected health. Perhaps the largest segment of the exhibits was devoted to retail cellular and related wireless products. It is amazing how many companies make accessories for cell phones like cases, charging products, Bluetooth speakers and dozens of other gadgets.
As for your mobile future, you will eventually have an LTE phone, if you do not already, a connected car, and very reliable and fast small cell mobile network capable of blazing data speeds, and M2M will be an increasing part of your life.