Let's look at what's happening at CTIA Wireless 2011 by first addressing what isn't happening: Billboard's Mobile Entertainment Live! event, a pre-conference staple since the long-ago days when ringtones still defined the mobile media experience, is conspicuously absent from this year's CTIA programming schedule. In fact, apart from a Mobile Entertainment Forum panel exploring "The Centrality of Mobile and Enablers to an Enhanced Multi-Screen Content Strategy" (panelists still TBD at press time) and the annual Brighthand Mobile Film Festival, traditional mobile content categories and initiatives are a non-starter this time around, underscoring the industry's ongoing shift to more interactive services and applications.
So what can the mobile data sector expect from CTIA Wireless 2011? The smart money is on mobile payments and related m-commerce efforts to generate headlines, following a trend established at last month's Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, where international operators Deutsche Telekom and Orange as well as BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) outlined plans to roll out Near Field Communications-based services. The explosive growth of m-commerce is the subject of the daylong Money Over Mobile, a pre-CTIA conference that takes place March 21. Executives from payment and credit solutions providers including Visa, PayPal and Citi will be on hand, alongside representatives from Nokia, Syniverse, VeriFone and NeoMedia Technologies. Not to be outdone, the MEF will mount its own session, "M-Commerce Security and Privacy: Increasing Consumer and Industry Confidence," the following afternoon.
Competing with Money Over Mobile: The Mobile Web & Apps World Forum, also March 21. This time around, the theme is "The Rise of Mobile Social Commerce," a topic broad enough to encompass application monetization strategies, cross-platform software deployment, location-based and viral marketing, and mobile retail initiatives. AT&T Interactive (NYSE:T) Vice President of Mobile Product Management David Williams will keynote; execs from MTV, RealNetworks, the Wholesale Applications Community and Distimo will contribute as well. Mobile software programmers also are encouraged to check out March 22's App Developer Pitch Sessions event, which includes tracks spotlighting revenue streams and venture financing, enterprise solutions and multi-platform distribution models. Speakers include representatives from Samsung, Qualcomm Ventures and others.
Despite the increasing importance of developers and applications within the mobile ecosystem, it's difficult to determine exactly what role they'll play in the overall CTIA 2011 slate--or, for that matter, how many developers will turn out. Compared with Mobile World Congress--with its App Planet programming and operating system-specific sessions--next week's conference appears light on the kind of focused, deep-dive insight likely to persuade developers and publishers to make the trip to Orlando, Fla. Moreover, it's virtually impossible to look at the CTIA 2011 agenda as a whole and forecast the one theme or trend that will set the show apart. Whether that portends an eclectic, consistently surprising conference or simply one without focus or purpose remains to be seen.