Expert Insight: Separating hype from reality

By Andrew M. Seybold

Before every show, a number of articles appear about what someone or other expects to see at the show, what the big buzz might be and why it will be important. The interesting thing to me is that none of us ever go back to these articles and update them after the show is over. If we did, we probably would have to admit our crystal balls were not working as well as we expected.

CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment 2007 is no different. What will we see? My standard comment is that demos are demos. Seeing a great new 4G technology running over a single base station to a few handsets or notebook computers is not reality, and when the technology is deployed, if it ever is, there will major differences in the results we were shown in a booth and those we measure in the field with a normal amount of channel loading.

Software demos are similar. When I watch a demo of a new program or application, I watch the hands of the people giving the demo. How many keys did they have to push to get to where they could show us what their product does? How long did it take someone so experienced with the application or program to move about within it, and how long would it take in a real-world environment when it is only one of the applications we use and we haven't spent the time to become experts at it? (If I have to open a manual to learn how to use it, I won't.)

So what will I be looking for on the show floor this year? For one thing, I will be visiting as many of the smaller companies' booths as I can. The smaller companies, especially ones that have made the CTIA show their first show, are the ones I want to find out more about. What are their products and services? What is their target market? And what is their business model?

I am particularly interested in companies that share my belief that making the Internet wireless is NOT what we want, but that developing and defining the wireless Internet IS. This means I will be looking for companies providing access to information on the Internet without having to resort to a browser. Thankfully, a number of companies are working on embedding access to Internet information directly into applications so you don't have to open a browser and go to a Website to find specific information.

Also of interest to me this time around are femtocells-these are small cell sites that can be located in a home or business to provide coverage inside where there is none today. This is being accomplished several ways. The first is what T-Mobile is doing with its HotSpot @Home, using a GSM/Wi-Fi phone and existing broadband DSL or cable. Another way is to do what Sprint just announced, which is to provide an actual mini-cell that is placed in your home or office and, again, using existing DSL or cable, connected back to Sprint's network. This system can handle up to three simultaneous phones on one femtocell, although it appears as though Sprint is not supporting data services at the moment. T-Mobile's Wi-Fi connection supports both voice and data services. Perhaps the fact that you already have high-speed data in your home means you don't necessarily need to use a wireless network for data, but in some cases it would be nice to have.

This show has morphed over the years and now has a dual focus. On one hand, it maintains its original focus on the IT community. A few years ago, it was expanded to include wireless entertainment which is, of course, a big market segment. For the past few years, the entertainment side of the show has been the biggest draw as network operators try to convince consumers to embrace 3G networks and data services. However, I suspect that this year we will see more focus on IT and the enterprise. Network operators, having established a good foothold in the consumer side of the business, are re-directing some of their attention to the business world and how 3G data services can be applied there as well.

Regardless of what you are looking for--consumer or business, technology or applications, advertising or mobile TV--it will all be at Moscone Center starting October 23 (note that our Andrew Seybold University will be held the day before at the same location). CTIA has two diverse shows and the fall show, while smaller, will still be full of surprises.

Andrew Seybold is 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.