CTIA Spring 2008: repeat after me"&brkbar;

If you listen carefully at CTIA in Las Vegas, there is the hum of mantras coming from a number of sources. The mood seems to be that if you shut your eyes, concentrate hard and say out loud what you'd like to happen it may come true.

The most obvious example is among the operators and the "˜traditional' vendors on the infrastructure front. Transfixed by the threat of WiMAX, Long Term Evolution (LTE) is being talked up everywhere you turn, even more than it was at the recent Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona, Spain.

Indeed the heat is on on this side of the Atlantic more than in Europe because there is the spectre of Sprint rolling out a nationwide WiMAX network this year (although doubts have been expressed about whether Sprint is any fit shape to proceed) that will mean it will be offering 4G mobile broadband some two years ahead of those who've plumped to go the "˜official' LTE route.

There is a great fear that those two years will allow WiMAX to establish such a grip, that LTE will never be able to shake it off and that by the time LTE is ready to go, it will already be obsolete.

No wonder then that Nortel's CEO Mike Zafirovski took advantage of his appearance on a conference panel to extol the advantages of LTE, but primarily he pointed to the whole industry's backing of it. Elsewhere in a speaking slot, Vodafone's CEO, Arun Sarin, said that for the industry to split in its support of one or the other technology was a waste of time and energy, no doubt anxious to head off another epic conflict such as the one at the birth of the modern mobile industry between Europe's GSM and the US' CDMA.

Ericsson says it has a full LTE chipset, which is interesting as the standard is far from finalised, although some elements are in place. Motorola is showing its IP-to-IP call hand-off between CDMA and LTE base stations and China's Huawei has entered the fray with an LTE base station. Nokia Siemens Networks added flesh to the Flexi base station it announced at the Mobile World Congress in February. It says that a software upgrade would support the new 700 MHz and Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) bands.

It's hard not to feel that Microsoft embraces hope over experience in the mobile market too.  On Tuesday it announced that it would offer full Web browsing for mobile phones this year, obviously gee'd up by the greatly admired iPhone browser. Microsoft said Internet Explorer Mobile will be available to mobile phone manufacturers by the third quarter with the first phones to go on sale by year end.

There is no reason to expect a Christmas rush. There are already more iPhone's in use around the world than there are mobile handsets running Microsoft operating systems, although the software giant had a head start of several years, while, despite court cases and network outages, RIM and its BlackBerrys goes from strength to strength. Not to mention the nifty, run-on-just-about-anything, free to download browsers from Opera that synch with the online version.

As the owner of an HTC Touch (which is just about to be launched in the US), I can vouch for the fact that Windows Mobile crashes every bit as hard, if more frequently, than the online operating system.

 

Perhaps the glitches will be fixed by the new version, Windows Mobile 6.1, which has just been announced‾ (Also see news story below on Microsoft's aspirations in the Chinese handset market.)

Sir Richard Branson was also guilty of avoiding reality and talking about how he'd like the world to be in his keynote speech. He argued that the MVNO model is viable, but preferred to talk about the Virgin Group's evolution and environmental matters rather than how the Virgin Mobile USA division could improve its poor performance. Branson owns a 35% share of Virgin Mobile and is thought to have lost around a quarter of a billion dollars since the USA branch was floated on the stock market last autumn.

Virgin reported a net loss of US$14.7 million (€9.4 million) during the fourth quarter of 2007. Branson said the MVNO will be launching a new handset to complement its Virgin Mobile Festival in August. This didn't appear to have any appreciable effect on share price.

Yahoo has debuted the latest version of its oneSearch service, adding technology that supports voice queries. While Yahoo!'s mobile search is arguably the best in the market, this is a reflection of how poor other offerings are, not Yahoo!'s genius. Also, as extensive personal research has found, there is an awful long way to go with voice recognition applications on mobile and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Yahoo has invested US$20 million (€12.8 million) Vlingo, which provides the voice-recognition technology that powers the new version of Yahoo oneSearch.

Still there are some encouraging developments. Verizon Business announced new mobile extensions for PBXs, based on software from Ascendent Systems, a subsidiary of Research in Motion. The software can be deployed on standard off-the-shelf servers and deployed in conjunction with a TDM or IP PBX, according to Verizon. It replaces an earlier PBX mobile Extension offering, announced in June of 2007, that was hardware-based.

For mobile workers using Blackberry 8000 series devices, there is an extra level of functionality such as the ability to support two phone numbers - one personal, one corporate - with two separate feature sets and toggle back and forth from one to the other, depending on the nature of the call.

Perhaps the biggest success though is the rise of social network via mobile. Barely six months after Research In Motion (RIM) launched its Facebook-for-BlackBerry smartphone application at October's CTIA conference the application has been downloaded 1 million times.

BuzzCity, which specialises in enabling social networking for non-smart phone users, announced its entrance into the US market at CTIA. It built the biggest mobile-only community, myGamma, based on an off-portal, ad-supported business model. The company claims to serve 1 billion ads per month.

 

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