CTIA hopeful moving annual conference to May will be a hit with attendees

CTIA has high hopes for its annual spring confab, CTIA Wireless 2012, which takes place next week in New Orleans and is billed as the largest wireless conference in North America. The association decided to move its event this year from its traditional time slot in late March to early May at the request of exhibitors.

The logic behind the move to May was that this timeframe would better position the conference for product launches in advance of the back-to-school season and the busy fourth quarter retail buying time. And it would also provide more time between the busy first-quarter trade show season that currently includes the Consumer Electronics Show in January and the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain, in late February.

Will this strategy work? According to Rob Mesirow, vice president and show director at CTIA, attendance for next week's event is tracking surprisingly well. He expects attendance to surpass that of the 2011 CTIA Wireless show, which attracted 40,000 attendees.

But don't expect to see the same familiar faces at the show. Mesirow said that conference organizers are seeing a shift in attendees and exhibitors. There will likely be companies catering to mobile payments and mobile security on the exhibit floor as well as an influx of vendors from China. Noticeably absent will be booths from past CTIA stalwarts such as Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) (which hosted its annual BlackBerry World this week), and Nokia (NYSE:NOK), which will have a presence at the show, just not an exhibit hall booth.

According to Mesirow, the growing presence of vendors from China is part of the evolution of the industry--one in which devices are more commoditized. "Screens are ubiquitous," Mesirow said, noting that many of these Chinese vendors are hoping to secure contracts to develop specialized devices for vertical markets such as mobile healthcare.

Other areas of growth include retail--Mesirow said the number of exhibitors from the retail area has increased 23 percent. In addition, expect to see more attendees from retailers such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart and others.

As with the fall CTIA show, expect to hear a lot about the enterprise and the machine-to-machine market. Mesirow noted that CTIA has created a special interactive exhibit, called "the Solutions Showcase," which brings wireless advancements in these areas to life. Major sponsors of the showcase include Accenture, AT&T, Dell and Verizon.

CTIA also made a shift to the structure of its keynote sessions, which were usually only held in the morning. At next week's gathering, the keynote session involving a roundtable discussion with AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) President and CEO Ralph de la Vega, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) President and CEO Dan Mead, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) President and CEO Dan Hesse and Phillip Humm, president and CEO of T-Mobile USA, will occur Tuesday afternoon from 4:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. In addition, the show will close on Thursday with an afternoon keynote from 2 p.m. until 3 p.m. featuring former President Bill Clinton.

Mesirow said that the change to the keynotes was part of CTIA's effort to shake up the model and do things differently. He expects the operator panel discussion to focus on innovation and new business models. The operator keynote session will be moderated by CNBC host Jim Cramer. "We think that by closing out the first day with those guys, people will leave the event thinking about these issues as they go to their evening networking events," Mesirow said.

I'm certainly interested to see whether the move to May and the changes in the CTIA programming and exhibit hall are a success with conference-goers. This annual confab always provides a glimpse into the future direction of the wireless industry. 

As always, the FierceWireless team will be out in force at the show. Look for all our coverage in the newsletters and at our CTIALive page here. --Sue

P.S. I will once again be chairing the annual FierceWireless "Path to 4G" conference at CTIA. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 8 starting at 11 a.m. I'm really looking forward to hearing from top executives such as Kris Rinne, senior vice president of architecture and planning at AT&T Labs, and Neville Ray, CTO of T-Mobile USA. Both of these long-time wireless executives always have interesting insights on the latest technology innovations. In addition, we wll have some compelling panels on such hot-button topics as VoLTE, selling 4G to the consumer, small cell deployments and more. Check out the agenda and register here.