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Report from Orlando: The Cellular Industry is Alive and Well - WiFi shines, “Wireless Internet Caucus” announced -

Report from Orlando: The Cellular Industry is Alive and Well - WiFi shines, “Wireless Internet Caucus” announced -

(March 26, 2002) - CTIA Orlando Convention Center, LAT 28.438, LONG -81.478, Cell ID 23621…as the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association finished up its latest convention, at Orlando Florida's convention center last week, it was a very good indicator of the strong health and well being of the cellular industry.

This CTIA event stood in stark contrast to the last one-which happened right as the upheaval associated with 9/11 began. This CTIA showed a cellular industry with a good level of energy that continues to drive forward…despite all its trials and "mis-steps" over the last year.

Even looking beyond the glitzy runway models wearing the latest tight-fitting clothes and hip wireless devices, and beyond the big names that attended, it's hard to get a real handle on just what this show can be said to have meant to the cellular industry. A better approach to discovering this might found by evaluating the set of "fuzzy" metrics below, in our "Show Snapshot."

Unscientific as they are, they are perhaps more instantly illustrative of the overall tone of this show.

CTIA 2002: WBT's "Show Snapshot"

Volume of press releases relative to other CTIA shows High
Number of companies throwing lavish parties Low
Amount of useless booth "trinkets" Low
Business or deal-making oriented meetings High
"Major buzz" product announcements Low
Product introductions, innovations, & announced alliances High

The snapshot provides at least indirect evidence that "shareholder value" is a key focus for the cellular industry. For a number of obvious reasons, companies have trimmed down to their fighting weight and seem ready to make some big strides. Add to this that a large percentage of announced products and services was targeted at ways to reduce costs or increase efficiencies and, well, no one should doubt that ROI is now firmly in the driver's seat.

Monetized Wi-Fi & Cellular
"WiFi" (a.k.a. 802.11b) had a big presence in Orlando. It was visible thanks to companies announcing the promise (and reality) of metered or monetized 802.11b wireless ISP services-like Boingo and UWiFi. These companies provide both infrastructure and software to create profitable hotspot WLAN services. Clearly, the cellular industry is starting to see the need for synergy between its infrastructure (like 2.5 or 3G) and that of hotspots, and seems to be on the road to embrace WLAN services.

An example of this future was plain to see in one of the keynote presentation demos during the show. The keynote demo had Flarion's OFDM-based wireless broadband product "hand off" a connection from its service to a local WiFi hotspot. The device in question had a live video stream running which was handed off seamlessly from its originated OFMD-based Flarion radio to a WiFi hotspot--and the video continued to play uninterrupted. Such seamless connectivity from fixed wireless to a WiFi hotspot is surely a taste of things to come.

The Wireless Internet Caucus
CTIA has also publicly started down the path towards the creation of an industry leadership council to help foster a number of different wireless ecosystems that exist in the wireless industry today. The members are top industry executives from well known, and some not so well known, companies. These executives will help create guidance and resolutions when dicey issues arise in their company's industry or area of focus. The WIC (Wireless Internet Caucus) has working groups in areas like Privacy & Security, Billing Systems, Messaging, Content and a number of others…areas which of course we already cover regularly in the pages of WBT.

The CTIA's WIC initiative - though it might seem like a hollow gesture, owing to the competitive pressures that could arise from this approach - is also an acknowledgement of the realities facing the wireless industry. There are many factors that can have an adverse effect on the various wireless ecosystems that participating WIC companies would face on their own. Facing them together, on a cooperative basis, might just be the key to success. The WIC could play the very key role of defusing economic or competitive issues that could have an adverse or even crippling effect on the introduction of new wireless technologies.

Taking an optimistic view, it could be that wireless is on the threshold of a new era of co-operative or collaborative business practices. Who knows, perhaps the step of running products through some WIC interoperability process could someday become part of product rollouts? Only time will tell.

A "Quietly Important" Event
Despite the fact that this CTIA show didn't seem to have any truly earth-shattering announcements, perhaps they weren't needed: it made up for the lack of "buzz" with the sheer volume of product and partnership announcements during the show. This deluge of press releases could be described as the breaking up of a logjam of sorts, and for this reason alone, it's likely that CTIA was a quietly important event for a number of companies. For the industry, this deluge represents a gain in existing products and partnerships that in turn will likely build a stronger industry. Maybe the lack of "big buzz" that existed at this CTIA was simply a result of the event's ROI and business focus.

All in all, it seemed like this CTIA show had some very clear messages for Wall Street and wireless companies alike. It makes one impatient to see what the next CTIA will bring…

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