U.S. Wireless Industry Tops 230 Million Subscribers - CTIA 2007 show report
by Roman Kikta
Tue, Apr 3, 2007, 11:33 PM
Having just returned from attending the CTIA Wireless 2007, the largest wireless show in the world last week in Orlando, I can attest that the wireless communications industry is flourishing! This premier event featuring keynotes by two former U.S. presidents was attend by some 40,000 people and over 1,100 exhibitors showcasing products and services representing over 100 countries. The following are some of my observations:
It is very apparent that cellular phones have evolved from being just “phones” into pocket-sized mobile infotainment centers. Technologies, specifically mobile video, applications and location tracking dominated the tradeshow floor. What was also surprising was that Apple while not an exhibitor at the show, their soon to be released iPhone was arguably the most talked about product, numerously mentioned by many key industry executives including the chairman of the FCC, the CEOs of EMI, Orange, and others throughout their keynote speeches and presentations. Many of these executives obviously who have had the opportunity to use the product where simply ecstatic over this product. All had cited the simplicity of the iPhone user-interface (UI), with its touch-screen navigation and elegant sleek design, many feeling that Apple clearly understands the needs of the wireless consumer and that the iPhone is the new industry bench mark for devices. Since I have not used the product, I cannot corroborate this view.
The iPhone combines three products — a mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and an Internet communications device with desktop-class email, web browsing, maps, and searching — into one small and lightweight handheld device. iPhone also introduces an entirely new user interface based on a large multi-touch display and new software that lets you control everything with just your fingers. Apple claims that this software power and sophistication has never before seen in a mobile device before and that it will completely redefining what you can do on a mobile phone. The iPhone which is expected to be available exclusively by AT&T Wireless (at a estimated price of $500) in June already has a backlog of over 1 million units since it was unveiled in early January.
There were several interesting devices that caught my attention (clearly not your “father’s cellular phone”) as I walked the show floor; they included product models by Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Samsung. Today’s wireless phone is more than just a phone, with most manufacturers clearly designing for today’s younger generation. Specifically Samsung and LG both displayed half a dozen TV-ready phones, some for the technology that is used in the U.S., some for a competing standard used in Europe and Asia. I must add that the Asia models were most impressive, especially design wise. Generally, we are seeing an offering of a plethora of devices with more colorful and sleeker designs, bigger, brighter displays, higher resolution cameras (i.e. Samsung announced an 8GB cellphone and a 10 megapixel cameraphone devices). Additionally almost all manufacturers are taking music much more seriously, featuring models with dedicated player buttons, removable storage slots and or lots of built-in memory, stereo speakers and more (see Samsung’s UpStage II music phone). Some are even available with separate controls which enable you to turn the phone off and still use the music player. This will not only extends battery life, but also allows travelers to enjoy their music on a plane without breaking FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] regulations. (It should also be noted that on the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] has officially grounded the idea of allowing airline passengers to use cellular telephones while in flight noting that there was "insufficient technical information" available on whether airborne cell phone calls would jam networks on the ground. Existing rules require cellular phones to be turned off once an aircraft leaves the ground in order to avoid interfering with cellular network systems on the ground. The agency began examining the issue in December 2004. FAA regulations also restrict the use of cellular phones and other portable electronic devices onboard aircraft to ensure against interference with the aircraft's navigation and communication systems.)
Being an ex-Nokia guy, I instinctively appreciate the Nokia N95 which is an attractively packaged in a silver metallic finish, quad-band "world phone," that can be use in virtually on any continent. This unit offers an ergonomic keypad for dialing and executing PDA functions and comes with some outstanding features and functions including built-in GPS and maps for more than 150 countries, covering more than 15 million points of interest. It also has a variety of “mobile entertainment” capabilities including impressive multimedia features including a 5-megapixel camera with a 20x digital zoom, a digital music player with FM radio, and support for stereo Bluetooth headsets. The N95 supports High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) data networks, which offer DSL (albeit on the slower side) type speed.
Not to be outdone, Sony Ericsson introduced its new Walkman (MP3 player) phone (model W580) which also has a set of built-in sports applications that enable you to track your steps, count your calories, and monitor your running speed and distance while listening to your favorite tunes. The W580 also works with stereo Bluetooth headsets, and comes with a 2-megapixel camera and a 512 MB Memory Stick Micro for storing photos and music. Like Nokia's N95, the W580 is a world phone, so you can use it in the U.S. and abroad. It can also accommodate marathon talkers, claiming a talk time of up to 9 hours.
Technologies, especially those dealing with mobile TV/ video seemed to be prominently showcased. While still in its infancy, the uptake will be rapidly accelerated as both chipmakers such as Dallas-based Texas Instruments Inc. touting video-ready handset chips that support high-definition video and a next-generation projector. Additionally, infrastructure network suppliers, Nortel Networks Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Alcatel-Lucent all claiming to have video-ready components that will enable carriers to handle as much content as users want. A couple handset models from LG demonstrated built-in digital video recorders that allow users to tape up to 3 ½ hours of television. Best of all, if a user gets a call while watching television, the DVR automatically starts and the program appears to pause as soon as the call is answered. The show resumes when the call ends. From the carriers, Verizon announced a new mobile TV service from ESPN, called “V Cast Mobile TV” which currently broadcasts eight channels, but the system can handle as many as 20, and Verizon says it is considering additions to the line-up. Sprint Nextel Corp. said it would expand the amount of content available to its users from MTV Networks.
In addition to the major companies, several emerging venture capital backed companies such as California-based Sling Media Inc. announced its SlingPlayer Mobile software, which enables consumers with compatible phones to use their phones to watch any television program they can get at home in real time. Another company called Helio announced a new service called “Video Share” which begins with a normal wireless phone call, customers can hit one button to add a live video stream, allowing the called party to see what the caller is seeing. The service – which will launch this summer in more than 50 American markets – also allows both parties to stream video to each other, but not at the same time. Of course, customers must be in an area served by the company's 3G network and have a Video Share-enabled phone. These new mobile video technologies, products and services create an interactive experience of sight and sound that transforms the way people communicate.
Upstaging both the technologies and products were two former U.S. presidents who were the highlight of the last day of the show. In keeping with the show’s theme, “what is wireless to you”, President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton took center stage at the keynote address talking about the positive impacts of wireless communications from economic, social and political perspectives on consumers in America and in emerging countries; they also talked about their personal experiences as wireless device users. President George H.W. Bush referred to himself as a “black belt e-mailer” and he spoke about the impact wireless technology can have in countries such as China, by allowing people to better communicate with each other and to provide them universal access to information. President Bill Clinton reminded the industry that he signed legislature while in office that created a national framework (PCS) for the wireless industry, nurturing a uniquely competitive environment from which consumers are greatly benefiting today. President Clinton also added “that wireless technology allowed him to reduce by half the time it took him to write his latest book”.
To sum up, the CTIA show clearly illustrates that the wireless market remains strong both in the U.S. with over 230 million subscribers (and the globally, over 2 Billion), with both equipment vendors offering new devices and value propositions, while carriers are pushing to build and expand next generation (3G and WiMax) networks offering consumers new experiences in a mobile lifestyle.