Andrew Seybold: CTIA In Retrospect

Last month's CTIA Spring show was bigger this year than last, which should come as no surprise with the continuing expansion of the wireless industry. There has been a lot of growth in content and services organizations targeting the wireless industry for their next delivery vehicle.

The industry has morphed from being technology-centric to one that uses wireless to deliver content. Part of this transition is attributable to the fact that wireless is being discovered by companies that have content they have been delivering via other forms of communications media, especially the Internet and television. These companies recognize the potential of wireless delivery and want to participate.

Mobile TV was one of the big attractions at the show. Verizon's VCast TV service, using Qualcomm's MediaFLO one-way network, was live in Orlando and almost anywhere I went with my VCast LG phone I was able to view the TV broadcasts being sent over the system. While MediaFLO has been chosen by both Verizon and AT&T, there were a number of other companies involved in mobile TV on the floor including MobiTV and Roundbox, and many companies that want their existing or new TV content to find its way to the wireless population including Viacom, CBS and Disney.

Location-based services were also a big deal at this show. We are seeing a number of devices capable of turn-by-turn directions using map technologies from TeleAtlas and NavTaQ. We are also beginning to see the addition of real-time traffic reports on top of turn-by-turn directions.

It seems that many of the financial institutions know that more than 50 percent of their customers now bank online and that those who are familiar with online banking will take to wireless banking quickly and easily. There were many examples of the integration wireless and finance on the show floor, including Clairmail, a company with a clientless system that is being rolled out by a number of financial institutions.

One problem the wireless community has recognized over the past few months concerns the amount of content available on each network. Customers continue to find it difficult to figure out what is available as well as to find specific content they want or need. This brings up the topic of smart search engines that are being implemented on many networks as well as many of the Internet companies that want to play in the wireless space.

The best of these I have seen is the Yahoo! Mobile search engine that finds what you are looking for within the context of a category you are searching. While you can find all of the typical links you would expect from most search engines at the bottom of the search results, the first entries you see are the ones most relevant to what you are doing. For example, if you search for Paris in general, you will see a listing of information about Paris the city. However, if you search in the entertainment category you will find information about Paris Hilton. Search results are concise and can be based on your location, so if you search for pizza you get a detailed listing of pizza shops nearby including their phone numbers and addresses, not just a bunch of links to follow. The folks at Yahoo! seem to really understand that the wireless Internet is not about simply moving the desktop wirelessly to a small screen--it requires a completely new user experience.

There were, of course, plenty of technology players on the show floor, many new customer devices, demonstrations of the next evolution of technologies (EV-DO Rev B, UMTS HSUPA) and even some next-generation technologies including UMB and LTE (the term "4G" is not being used to describe what is coming next). WiMAX was, of course, represented on the floor. However, while there are those who are still making grandiose claims for this new wireless technology, the wireless industry in general seems to be waiting to see real, deployed systems and is not that excited about claims from those betting their companies on WiMAX as the next big thing.

The show had plenty for everyone from chipsets (including Wireless USB chipsets) to towers, cell radios, IP-core back-end systems, VoIP demonstrations over wide-area wireless, new and exciting wireless devices and content--lots of content.

Wireless is no longer about technology, which is important to be sure, it is now about providing all forms of communications and entertainment to the person, no matter where that person happens to be. Nowhere was this more evident than on the CTIA Wireless 2007 show floor.

Andrew Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide.