Published: 21 May, 2012
The CTIA Wireless Show took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, May 8-10. The show was pushed out from its regular March timeframe by a couple of months, which gave the mobile players some breathing room from late February's Mobile World Congress to make real news.
US wireless data volumes rose from 388 billion MB in 2010 to 866.8 billion MB in 2011, a 123% increase. However, the corresponding wireless data revenues went up by only 25%, from $50.1B in 2010 to $62.7B in 2011.
Next Major Wave of LTE Deployments
The top two tier-1 US carriers, Verizon and AT&T, have already begun deployment of their 4G/LTE networks. Verizon proudly claims that it carries 60% of global LTE traffic. The number 3 and 4 US carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile, will be launching their LTE networks later this year and in 2013. T-Mobile USA announced the infrastructure vendor selection for its $4B 4G network evolution plan with multi-year agreements with Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN)* and Ericsson. T-Mobile will use the AWS spectrum it obtained from AT&T as part of the breakup of the proposed merger between the two companies. T-Mobile will also modernize its HSPA+ offering. Sprint talked about its Network Vision upgrade plan. This includes getting rid of its iDEN network by year end, and refarming the spectrum for complementing its CDMA and LTE networks. Sprint plans to launch LTE in six markets by the end of this year.
Carriers Talk Up Different Aspects of Their Plans
The CEO's of the top four US mobile carriers each gave a keynote speech, followed by a fast-paced panel by CNBC correspondent Jim Cramer. The CEO's highlighted different areas of focus: Dan Mead, CEO of Verizon Wireless, talked about spectrum crunch, and how he agrees with the FCC chairman that more spectrum must be freed up for the industry to be able to handle the explosive mobile data traffic. Mead emphasized that Verizon needs additional spectrum in certain markets in 2013 and in 2014, and has gone to secondary markets (i.e. cable companies) to obtain it. Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, surprised the audience by pointing to the 2012 Reputation Institute survey, in which the reputations of mobile carriers apparently have dropped to the lowest of any major industry. He made a quick jab at industry players (i.e. AT&T and T-Mobile) who have confused consumers by their creative use of the "4" in "4G". He urged the industry to focus on safety, security, and privacy. Hesse announced its Guardian service that enables users to protect and manage several devices from one place. Hesse promised a mobile advertising program that will give consumers control and options. Philipp Humm, CEO of T-Mobile USA, acknowledged a tough 9 months while waiting for the ruling on the proposed AT&T deal. He said T-Mobile is back and focused on making 4G affordable, pointing out the company's $4B network transformation. He presented a commercial showing T-Mobile speeds zooming past iPhones on the AT&T network. Ralph de la Vega, AT&T Mobility's CEO, didn't miss a beat by pointing out a PC World study that found AT&T's LTE network to be the fastest. De la Vega took a different route and mainly covered AT&T Digital Life offering, which provides home security service and home automation services. AT&T plans to conduct home security service pilots in Atlanta and Dallas this summer.
In the follow-on panel discussion, Mead was asked if Verizon had too much spectrum, to which Mead responded that Verizon does not have the most spectrum but it has the most effective use of spectrum. Humm was challenged with a question asking how he can run a company while the parent company CEO talks about "strategic options" still on the table for T-Mo USA. Humm replied by mentioning the possibility of selling some tower assets. (The rumors of merger with Metro PCS are circulating around.) Hesse emphasized that the industry has to focus on trust and reputation, and if users trust us, they will buy from us. De la Vega was questioned about T-Mobile's speed ad, which he responded was not true. Humm clarified that the ad is referring to iPhone speeds on AT&T not the LTE speeds.
Wi-Fi and Small Cells as Key Elements of Future Heterogeneous Network
Following the Mobile World Congress big showing of small cells and Wi-Fi solutions to help mobile carriers offload some of the heavy data traffic, both had a strong showing at CTIA. NSN announced a global reseller agreement with Ruckus Wireless that enables NSN to provide Wi-Fi access and WiFi offload solutions to mobile operators, integrated into their cellular networks. Cisco stated that smart cells and WiFi are a key part of mobilizing Internet, as a utility, like water and power.
Clearwire pointed out that the total cost of ownership, including backhaul cost for small cells, has to be accounted for. The company has had a small deployment of small cells.
Over The Top Players Get a Big Presence
Over The Top (OTT) players had a big showing at this CTIA, with several keynotes coming from OTT company CEO's. When the CEO's of top four US mobile carriers were asked about whether folks like Apple, Skype, Amazon, and Google are friends or foes, they each said tactfully these folks are friends. But Dan Hesse's remark at his keynote was perhaps the most revealing of how operators truly feel about OTT players. Hesse said "They are called Over The Top players because...they ride over the top of our enormous capital investments."
Pandora CEO talked about how Internet has fundamentally changed the nature of communication by adding "one to one", and "two-way" dimensions. Mobile is now expanding the Internet with a third dimension of "with you", which enables location-based and personal services. For Pandora, wireless opens up where people listen to radio, which is an automobile (back to where we started!). Spotify, a music streaming service, touted that its users are listening to 100 minutes of music a day. And, the service has reduced music piracy. Spotify has partnered with some European carriers and would like to partner with more carriers.
Representing NSN, Azita spoke at Apps @Work panel on the latest developments on enterprise apps on Day 1 at CTIA.
Verizon demonstrated a video broadcast app on its LTE network using Color for Facebook app. The app allows users to broadcast 30 seconds of video to their Facebook friends. While the capability is available on other carriers' networks, inclusion of audio is exclusive to Verizon's LTE network.
Machine to Machine: Carriers Competing with Home Security Vendors?
CTIA had an M2M Zone showcasing various machine to machine solutions. This is a low ARPU (average revenue per user) business which operators hope to compensate for with much higher volumes. AT&T continued with its concept of "Connected House" from Mobile World Congress, with a house setup, in New Orleans Garden District. The company introduced the AT&T Digital Life service that will provide home security and home automation services. According to the company, only 20% of US homes have home security and only about 1% have home automation. Entering the home security business will put AT&T in direct competition with likes of ADT.
Representing NSN, Azita spoke at the Emerging Technologies panel at CTIA Wireless U program on the latest developments in mobile health, a promising branch of M2M. The presentation included the latest mobile wellness and medical innovations. The panel was intended to educate US policy makers of how mobile and wireless capabilities have fundamentally impacted other industries.
This is the year of mobile payments, according to Visa President, John Partridge. And, "the Near Field Communications (NFC) is the driver for it". Haven't we been to this movie before?
MasterCard demonstrated new enhancements to its PayPass digital wallet. In addition to being able to use this at designated PayPass point-of-sale terminals, users can use PayPass to make online purchases.
Some High-End Devices: Multi-Core, with Android 4.0
LG demonstrated its Optimus 4X HD: a phablet device with 4.7" display (half way between a phone and a tablet), similar to Samsung Galaxy Note, complete with a stylus; but more square-ish. It has a quad core processor. HTC showed off its DROID Incredible 4G LTE for Verizon and EVO 4G LTE for the upcoming Sprint LTE network. Both phones have a dual core processor. Samsung, fresh out of its own London show, did not have a booth. But it demonstrated Samsung Galaxy S III phone. Galaxy S III is equipped with a dual core processor. All these high-end phones run Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich.
And One More Thing …
Qualcomm demonstrated a proof of concept of a 3D tablet, complete with dual front cameras, and dual back cameras, with a display where users can view the images in 3D without glasses.