Thursday, April 8, 2010

CTIA 2010: The Industry Looks Toward the Future

The CTIA Wireless show on March 22nd to March 25th, 2010 was marked by a number of keynotes and product announcements that were clearly meant to guide the industry to a future where data will play a prominent role. The keynote addresses were focused on outlining the need for additional wireless broadband capacity, the desire for more spectrum to be released by the FCC, and the business viability of less overall regulation. There was subdued praise for the FCC broadband plan with the understanding that many details have to be worked out, but that it is considered a start in the process of growing the mobile internet.

Some key issues remain in guiding the industry forward:

Is LTE going to provide a big enough capacity boost to create large amounts of bandwidth increase?

Data from a report: HSPA to LTE-Advanced: 3GPP Broadband Evolution to IMT-Advanced (4G) by Peter Rysavy of Rysavy Research done for 3G Americas,, indicates that for an apples to apples comparison of HSPA+ and LTE, the capacity increase for LTE is around 25%. What that says is for the last mile of a wireless network (handset to base station) there will need to be a lot more spectrum available as well as more micro solutions like Wi-Fi Hotspots and Femtocells to cover the capacity gap between what users want to do on their phones and the capabilities of the network, especially as it relates to video.

There are other benefits of offering LTE however, and much of them comes from the efficiencies of an all IP network and the lower latency which improves VoIP. The cost saving from these efficiencies allow the investment in the LTE networks to become worthwhile.

Video is a Bandwidth Hog

Video seems to the elephant in the room when it comes to bandwidth capacity. Cisco in their keynote highlighted that over 90% of all wireless traffic will be video in five years time. This is somewhat self -serving in that the more IP traffic increases the more Cisco provides the equipment to drive this traffic but the appeal of video still remains especially as the experience on the fixed Internet is transferred to the mobile phone. This point was further highlighted by the CEO of Clearwire, Bill Marrow who compared the usage on the Clearwire network vs. the 3G network where average usage is almost five times higher on the Clearwire network. Clearwire openly promotes that usage of video viewing as a differentiator for customers.

The other aspect that the mobile phone brings is the use of the camera as a video conferencing device, as well as, a live video camera. The proposed new Sprint WiMAX phone will have a camera both sides of the phone to allow for video conferencing. In addition, a service that allows for on the spot live video capture also has the potential to be popular, as a restriction free “See What I See” video service. Those video services have the potential to create more bandwidth issues.

Apple and Google Missing

One of the strangest aspects of the show was that there were no major presence of the two companies that have made the most impact to the industry in the past couple of years: Apple and Google. The iPhone has clearly become an icon in the industry so much so that a company like Samsung is offering an iPhone like product called the” Galaxy S” which promoted itself primarily with its stronger screen characteristics: brighter, more battery efficient and able to be viewed in sunlight, and its Android operating system. Google has clearly made an impact in the market allowing handset manufacturers the ability to compete with the iPhone and changing the fortunes of manufacturers HTC and Motorola for the better. Much of the conversation around the show was marveling at the staying power and impact Android has had on the mobile market. In essence these two major internet players are saying we will work with carriers as we need to but, our interests for what we see the internet being are clearly different, and we do not need to promote an organization that is clearly a carrier organization.

Next week in my blog I will talk about some of the interesting new companies and product ideas that I saw at CTIA.

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