Jarich: CTIA 2012 and what we'd like to see, from mobile DTV to LTE public safety

Peter Jarich

    Peter Jarich

Next week, many of us will be heading down to New Orleans for CTIA Wireless 2012, the first time CTIA's annual tradeshow and convention revisits the Crescent City since Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.  In the four months of 2012 that have preceded it, both CES and Mobile World Congress have come and gone. Operators have talked up their network rollout and device plans. Device vendors have talked up their latest and greatest innovations--not to mention a nearly endless supply of quad core-powered phones and tablets.  Network vendors made it clear that they're ready (or getting ready) to support operator demands around small cells and WiFi.

Against this backdrop, it might seem like there's little left to see or hear at CTIA Wireless. It might seem like all the major news has been announced and even the vendors who've held something back won't have anything particularly exciting to say. This could well be the case.

At the same time, it's also true that an event like CTIA represents an opportunity for operators and vendors, alike, to move forward on strategies and messaging that should have been (could have been) released earlier in the year--or even way back in 2011.  Rather than looking forward to CTIA Wireless 2012 and asking "what do we expect to see?", then, it's more instructive to ask, "what would we like to see?" What are the topics, trends and developments we want to see move forward next week--even if we don't expect them to actually materialize?

  • Next-Gen Hotspot: Take 1.5: In February, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) announced that it had completed the first round of its Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) trials and that "trials of more advanced technology features" would be coming in the second half of 2012. Just as important as getting more features involved, however, is engaging more vendors and operators. Mobile device vendors in the original trials were limited to Intel and LG. Network equipment vendors were limited to the usual WiFi players. These vendors have no interest in seeing others build their NGH credibility, but the industry would benefit from repeating the initial trials with additional vendors.
  • EPC Preps for LTE Maturity: As LTE launches were approaching, EPC solutions were introduced from vendors of all stripes. Some solutions were built on existing 3G packet core offers. Some were built specifically to tackle 4G. Now that LTE networks and services have been deployed, it's time for upgrades. We saw this with Ericsson at Mobile World Congress and the introduction of Benu Networks late last year. To prove that everyone is ready to keep up with LTE demands and LTE traffic, Ericsson's competitors need to follow suit with their own EPC platform upgrades. Startups which haven't yet come out of the woodwork need to consider making themselves known (I'm talking to you Affirmed Networks).
  • LTE Preps for Public Safety: While it's unclear when (if) we'll ever have a national public safety network built out in the US, one thing is clear: going forward, LTE will form the foundation of any such network going forward. Come mid-August, it's expected that a board will be named for FirstNet, the group that's tasked with planning and building this wireless broadband network. Conversations with operators and vendors suggest a lot of questions regarding how this will progress, how FirstNet will work with commercial networks, how vendors will drive their agendas, etc. This makes CTIA 2012 a prime time for education efforts (aka, marketing) all around.
  • Mobile DTV Update: By all accounts, back in January, 2012 seemed like it was going to be a good year for mobile DTV in the US. At CES, MetroPCS gave the technology a (semi) major endorsement, talking up its plans to offer a device from Samsung that would leverage the Mobile Content Venture's Dyle application. Beyond the Samsung-MetroPCS-MCV tie-up, Belkin announced plans for mobile DTV accessories supporting Dyle. The mobile DTV ecosystem seemed to be ramping up in support of US services. Yet, fast forward to April's NAB show and the Open Mobile Video Coalition was quoting the same 120 stations on-air as it did back in January. What's more, Samsung and MetroPCS had yet to be joined by any other device vendors or wireless carriers (though LG demonstrated a phone with the Dyle application). The broadcasters understand they need the mobile industry to help them drive mobile DTV (and drive up the value of their spectrum). CTIA would be a good place to show progress.
  • New OS Commitments: Mobile World Congress was notable for the forward momentum of new, "open" operating systems with Huawei joining the Tizen Association and Telefonica announcing its Boot 2 Gecko work. For barely-nascent operating systems, this was big news. Still, where Telefonica is just one operator and we might never see a single Tizen device from Huawei, the success (however marginal) of these platforms hinges on the news out of Mobile World Congress being just the beginning of their story. New device partners must follow. New operator partners must follow. Building on the progress at Mobile World Congress, in turn, would point to momentum which could encourage even more participation.
  • Services Meet Innovation: How long have we been hearing from mobile infrastructure vendors about the services and pricing innovation they can help roll out thanks to their analytics tools, Customer Experience Management solutions and policy servers? How long have we heard that family data plans would be coming to the US? It's been some time. To be fair, vendors have been enabling new pricing models and family data is now available in the States--just not with major US mobile carriers. Were the major cellcos to move forward with speed tiering, QoS packages or even the family data they've been promising, it could help drive revenues as well as give vendors some great new use cases. Since we've heard this is coming later in 2012, CTIA seems like a natural place to go public with details.
  • Silicon Beyond the Processor: Quad-core processor messaging took center stage at Mobile World Congress this year. Beyond the processor, however, there are other opportunities for differentiation around modem and RF components. Better performance here, for example, could deliver improved data rates, better battery life, and better voice coverage. Last year, the GSMA was reportedly tasked with testing a handful of mobile devices for their RF performance characteristics--driven by operators who wanted to prove that their networks weren't always to blame for spotty services. Operators clearly care about more than processor speeds and, even if they don't know it, consumers do too. Where messaging on this front has been limited, it also represents a solid differentiation opportunity.

Do I expect to see any of this at CTIA this year?  No.  I expect to see people I haven't connected with since Barcelona, awkwardly suggestive beads on colleagues and maybe the Foo Fighters at Jazz Fest on the Sunday before the show. I do, however, hope that CTIA Wireless isn't simply an extension of what we've seen from CES and Mobile World Congress--that vendors and operators seize the opportunity to move the industry forward.  If they do, it will be a nice way for CTIA to return to The Big Easy.

On a separate note, Current Analysis will have a booth at the show this year (#5672).  I'll be there from time to time and would be glad to chat on any of these topics.  Other Current Analysis analysts who are much smarter than me will be there too (http://www.currentanalysis.com/d/2012/ctiawireless/).  Stop by.  Bring me some wine.  Tell me where I've gone off the reservation.  Or, simply wave on your way somewhere else. 

Peter Jarich is the Service Director leading Current Analysis telecom infrastructure practice. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.

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