Electronic Design

CTIA: Day One

The CTIA conference is the U.S.’s largest cell phone show of the year. CTIA, of course, is the premier Wireless Association for this industry. This year is the 25th anniversary of the organization. The show is by no stretch of the imagination small—with over 40,000 in attendance and 1200 exhibitors. Obviously there’s lots of sessions on all aspects of the cell phone business. It’s going to be hard to see it all—or even put a good dent in it.

I started my day by walking from the hotel to the convention center, which turned out to be about three miles instead of the one mile quoted. Not a good thing if you plan to be on your feet all day. But I made the keynotes on time and it was worth it.

The first speaker was Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless. He reminded everyone that there are over 260 million cellular subscribers in the U.S. now—more than wireline customers. And during 2007 the industry spent over $24 billion dollars in new infrastructure—a sure sign of a healthy and growing industry. He said that the business has become more difficult and competitive and to win this game a carrier has to “make it happen” for its customers. The cellular industry is clearly a customer driven business. His main point was to warn the audience of the clear and present danger in the potential for increased regulations. McAdam said that this industry is way too dynamic to regulate and too important to our lives to tax us the way the wireline business fell out.

Steve Largent, the president and CEO of CTIA spoke briefly quoting some stats from a recent survey. With 84% of the U.S. population now with cell phones, subscribers burned over 2 trillion minutes last year. Furthermore, there was a huge increase in data usage last year. Data revenue was $23 billion and over 1.6 billion text messages a day were sent. Data revenue is expected to continue to rise, making network management a major issue with all the carriers.

Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC spoke next and summarized the recent spectrum auction results. Over one thousand licenses were bought by both large and small regional carriers in the soon to be available 700 MHz spectrum. Auction revenue almost doubled expectations, topping out at $19.5 billion. The open bandwidth is expected to be used for wireless broadband and increased cellular coverage. Some of that spectrum is allocated to open platforms and public service usage. Martin praised the industry for its competition and growth and promised to recommend to his commissioners that there be little future regulation in this industry. And no net neutrality. We shall see.

Robert Bach , president of Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices division spoke next. He introduced the latest version of the Windows Mobile operating system. This version 6.1 has a new browser and is a better platform for entertainment applications. It also has a new search capability. The demo of 6.1 was on the new Sony Ericsson Xperia touch-phone. Bach mentioned that all five major U.S. carriers are expected to offer phones with 6.1 later in the year.

Dan Hesse, Sprint Nextel’s new CEO, came next to the podium. He called the cell phone our instant-gratification device as we have become a society of impatient folks that want what they want when and where they want it. They want the “whole package”. He used the Sprint Nextel push to talk feature that has been available for years as an example. Hesse also pointed out the increased data usage on the networks. Over 50% of subscribers now use data and that is expected to rise to 75% in the coming years. Video will be the biggest factor and music will continue to be a major feature. The cell-phone content industry is growing at a spectacular rate and is expected to exceed Hollywood and sports revenue. Hesse also mentioned Sprint’s new “Simply Everything” plan for $99 per month. No fancy or complex charges. You just pay the monthly fee and automatically get unlimited everything. Hesse demoed the new Samsung Instinct touch-phone that operates on their EV-DO Rev.A network. Finally, he said that Sprint would continue to build out its XOHM WiMAX network in the years to come.

The most entertaining speaker of the day was Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records. He talked about building his Virgin brand by moving from a music business to an airline business and now the Virgin Mobile cell-phone business. He said that he did not follow the traditional business or marketing models and instead focused on making customers happy. He also said that the climate change and global warming was driving his business decisions. Branson talked about his plans for a trip to Mars in the future. He asked for volunteers for this most likely one way trip and over 30 from the audience joined Branson on stage . . . probably just to meet him.

The rest of the day was spent jumping in and out of a long string of briefings from a variety of companies. I met with the RadioFrame people to get an update on the picocell and femtocell business, which is growing each year. They have developed their own processor chip to collapse the usual architecture and lower the price of a basestation to the level of a set-top-box.

I got a great demo of MicroVision’s new handheld laser projector for cell-phone or video-player application. It is about the size of the typical cell phone and uses its red, blue, and green lasers and a MEMS mirror to project a wide WVGA video picture on any available wall or screen. Very impressive. I hope expand on this technology in an article in the near future.

Another interesting briefing was with Altair Semiconductor and their new WiMAX/LTE OFMDA chip. This could be the winner of the chip battle and Altair has what appears to be the lowest power consumption of any such chip today.

I also had a look at the latest wireless test gear from both Agilent and Anritsu. The focus is definitely on LTE testing and WiMAX compliance measurements.

I wrapped up the day with our Editorial Director Mark David as we attended Mobile Focus at the Bellagio. A whole crew of vendors had mini displays and we were able to talk in more detail and comfort than on the show floor. By now I have walked about 10 miles and my ankle is the size of a grapefruit. Time to crash. But I’ll be back and at it again tomorrow.

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