CTIA: Broadband stimulus, evolved packet core and more

My attention deficit disorder tends to kick in during trade shows as I'm pulled in all directions and writing down interesting sound bites here and there. It usually takes me a few days to pull it all together and think about what all of this means. Until then, I wanted to share some of the trends, observations and interesting comments I heard on the first day of CTIA Wireless 2009.

Yesterday I attended a breakfast hosted by Alvarion Networks. The topic: the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus money. Lots of CEOs and high-level executives were in attendance, including Barry West from Clearwire, Kelly Dunne from Digital Bridges, which has rolled out mobile WiMAX in three rural markets, James Schlichting, acting Wireless Bureau chief with the FCC and Randy Jenkins, a broadband field representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of doling out $2.5 billion of the stimulus money. The consensus: lots of hard questions need to be answered quickly, questions such as, what defines broadband? What defines underserved? And how will wireless and its unique characteristic of being mobile be treated? My favorite quote was from Dunne, who said, "We are suddenly the cool people in the room." Various comment periods end this month with the FCC, NTIA and USDA.

I bet you never thought you'd have to learn wireline acronyms such as MPLS or even care about IP backbones and evolved packet core networks. But now they are becoming quite relevant to the wireless industry, as operators move to an all-IP network and want to offer services like video and VoIP-traffic that needs QoS to efficiently and effectively run over the network. We'll start seeing a bunch of announcements from vendors like Starent Networks, which won part of the packet core network with for Verizon Wireless' LTE rollout. It is beginning to score contracts with 3G operators as they begin to migrate more traffic to IP. Alcatel-Lucent announced its evolved packet core (EPC) offering for LTE, drawing on its expertise on the landline side and modifying its existing products, which are already deployed in some 30,000 landline operators. It now has an end-to-end LTE offering that includes the radio access network, LTE and IMS. How will competitors respond? Will we see some of the heavyweights in the wireline router industry make a play in the mobile world?

The WiMAX Forum finds itself in a bit of a different position compared with last year as LTE talk floods the show floor. But the technology clearly is gaining a foothold in developing markets like Pakistan, and, if markets like India and Brazil release spectrum soon, it could be a nice boost for the technology. WiMAX advocates have been making several trips to India and Brazil. WiMAX in developing countries may not be as sexy as say a metro deployment promises all sorts of attractive devices. After all, WiMAX is mostly providing basic connectivity in those markets. Clearwire is beginning to make the compelling case, however, that today's networks can't handle the surge in data traffic soon, especially as video takes hold. Of course 3G operators will tell you that customers rarely go over their data caps.

Finally, I liked yesterday how Lowell McAdam, head of Verizon Wireless, answered a question about Skype and whether it will ever be allowed: "Do we care whether voice is packet or traditional? No. But we have moved away from unlimited data plans. The excitement in an unlimited environment (for Skype) means one thing, but in an environment where you are paying for every byte, is a different environment."--Lynnette

P.S. If you went to our party last night, or want to see what you missed out on, check out our photos here.

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