CTIA Super Mobility 2016: It’s a wrap

CTIA show sign
editor's corner monica

Looking back over the dominant themes of last week’s CTIA Super Mobility 2016, it’s hard not to reminisce over the past 20 years and all those CTIA shows that went before. This year marked the last iteration of the show as we know it. As of next year, the GSMA will handle the event’s production and management, and it will be known as “GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas, in partnership with CTIA,” debuting Sept. 12-14, 2017, in San Francisco. 

Several keynote speakers who took the stage last week also took the opportunity to reminisce over the past decades. There was a time when the Wireless IT show was held in the fall and CTIA’s bigger show was held in the spring. Those were around the days when we all thought Microsoft was after our wireless data lunch. Back then, we didn’t even think about Google and 3.5 GHz, Wi-Fi HotSpot 2.0 or the demand that self-produced videos would put on networks. We were more concerned about how Motorola would keep sufficient stock of the RAZR or how smaller carriers would survive the constant wave of consolidation.

Remember the days before the dot-com burst where the show was especially out of control? There were a lot of attendees who didn’t look like they belonged at the show, and of course, the next year they weren’t there. One observation about this year’s show that I heard was the quality of attendees was higher than some past events, which is a good thing. There might not have been as many people attending, but at least the ones who were there were relevant.

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While times have certainly changed, some of the same show themes remained over the years. Carriers and their lobbyists are still saying they need access to more spectrum, only now there’s also a lot more unlicensed spectrum getting teed up, and that potentially spells opportunity for nontraditional players to get into the game.

Nokia executives told members of the media last week that they believe new players will be coming into the space thanks to shared and unlicensed spectrum, representing new client opportunities. Federated Wireless CEO Iyad Tarazi, a former Sprint network executive, told me that his company is seeing interest from traditional and non-traditional operators, and while he declined to reveal any clues as to who that might include, it isn’t hard to imagine how that could stir up the pot of competition in the 3.5 GHz space.

Another theme that I heard more than once is the need to explain what 5G is to people in ways that will make them understand and actually want in. It’s not enough to talk tech and how faster speeds and low latency are going to save the day. The industry needs to do a better job of illustrating how 5G is going to improve their lives, lead to safer streets, better jobs and stronger security, both online and off.

John Stratton, EVP and president of operations at Verizon, said as much during his keynote on Thursday. He tried to cut through some of the smart cities hype and invited two smart city veterans – John Rossant, founder and chairman of New Cities Foundation, and Hugh Martin, CEO and chairman of Sensity Systems – to discuss their experiences. Turns out, Verizon had its sights on Sensity, as it announced today that it has signed an agreement to purchase the company for an undisclosed amount. Sensity has built solutions to convert older lighting systems to connected LED systems.

Rossant said one big challenge is the financing piece. Worldwide, it’s going to cost a lot of money to upgrade infrastructure and there is money out there, but it all requires new and innovative financing models. Martin said a lot of time has been spent focusing on analytics and sensors, but what’s often forgotten is the piece in the middle called the network. Reliably collecting and using information, much of which is mission critical, is still an issue.

They’re right. The industry needs to work harder at coming together and being more productive in smart cities.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t examples out there of things going right. Innova, a small startup based near Chicago, was giving test rides of its little Dash car during CTIA’s show. Company executives were at CTIA to talk about a project with Ohio State University (OSU) and the City of Columbus, which won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Innova is working with the Ohio State team to develop autonomous driving, which will go live on OSU’s campus this fall.

Innova Dash car
Innova's Dash car

They weren’t doing autonomous demos in Las Vegas, but I had a chance to ride in one of the Dash vehicles driven by Aaron Foster, a project coordinator at Innova. He drove us around the Sands Convention Center, never going over 35 mph, which is the fastest speed the car is designed to go. The car is 100 percent electric and ideal for college kids who just need to get around campus.

Innova isn’t trying to compete with Uber, which is typically going after longer trips, and it’s not trying to compete with bicycles. It wants to fill in the zero-emissions gap between walking, biking and public transportation in urban and campus environments.  

The car has about 40 sensors in and on it, and Verizon is one of its partners. The car is small – just 7.6 feet long and 4.2 feet wide – and it’s not designed for highway driving or long trips. It felt a little strange to be so close to the concrete, and certainly there’s a feeling of being overwhelmed by semi-sized tractor trailers, even one parked on the side of the road. But it felt safe enough at the low speeds, and it doesn’t take up a lot of real estate.

Cars like this could be advantageous in low income neighborhoods where they could be shared, so that someone can use it to get to a higher paying job or make a visit to the doctor’s office. Marketers who are itching to get in front of Millennials might be willing to sponsor some ads on infotainment screens in the cars so that drivers can use the vehicles after, say, watching 30-second ads. Sensors measure things like the level of pollution in the air and environmental noises.  

According to the company’s website, Roman Kuropas, CEO, president and founder of Innova, strives to make 4G LTE connected vehicles more accessible to universities and municipalities. Who knows? This could be one of the next big things in getting from Point A to Point B. – Monica

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