Branson plays CTIA for the fool

After landing his hot-air balloon on the Palms Hotel, Virgin Group CEO and founder Sir Richard Branson gave a keynote address this morning that rarely touched on the wireless industry save for a few remarks defending the MVNO model, highlighting Virgin Mobile's strength in an economic downturn and encouraging wireless subscribers to recycle their phones and other wares.


"Companies have to withstand tough times, harsh critics and skeptics and remain true to what they believe in," Branson said. "We believe in flexibility, something customers need in all parts of the globe, especially in these economic times."


In an interview after Branson's keynote address Virgin Mobile USA CEO Dan Schulman expanded on Branson's contention that Virgin Mobile's flexibility will help it through the economic downturn facing the country.


"Even though there may be an economic downturn, the point is we are not sitting still," Schulman said. "We're not going to say 'Let's not keep innovating,' instead we'll stay true to our roots, which is this idea of flexibility: Great value without having to sign a long term contract. That proposition allows us to give a cash paying customer 5 cent minutes or 1000 minutes for $50 and with rollover. That means you can keep the balance of leftover minutes next month. It's new for prepaid."


While Branson's keynote was atypically off-topic for a wireless industry trade event, it was clear from the applause and laughter in the audience that most attendees were enamored with Branson's speech about the evolution of the Virgin brand.


The audience seemed so smitten that Branson even managed to coolly present Virgin's new joint venture with Google, dubbed Virgle, which aims to put 30 humans and a Noah's Ark menagerie of animals on Mars—without cracking a smile.


For those readers who haven't heard—it was an April Fool's joke. I was able to meet Branson after the keynote and sat-in on an effusive interview with a major cable news network's reporter who sincerely wanted to know all the details about Virgle. As Branson fleed the room after the interview, a worried producer with the news show approached a spokesperson for Virgin and asked: "This Virgle thing—it's for real right?" -Brian

-- See the photos of Sir Richard Branson in the Keynote slideshow.

Virgin wasn't the only company to pull an April Fools joke, check out Qualcomm's video:

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