Jarich: CTIA’s Super Mobility Week - Leaving Las Vegas

There’s always a risk in telegraphing your product or service plans too far in advance.  We all know, for example, that the promise of an iPhone 7 launch next week may delay today’s iPhone purchases.  And we’re all seeing vendors scramble to convey the continuing value of LTE in order to keep 5G from eating today’s network infrastructure sales opportunities.  In the same vein, I expect that many people might be writing off CTIA’s Super Mobility Week this year, in anticipation of next year when, teamed up with the GSMA, it becomes Mobile World Congress Americas. 

I’m not one of those people.

Where trade shows, conferences, and conventions are often a trigger for new product and service launches (along with strategy updates), the timing of Super Mobility Week may be one of its greatest assets.  Once the industry returns from its summer holiday season, there’s only a handful of months before things like CES planning, Mobile World Congress planning and cold-weather holiday diversions go into effect.  In other words, you can expect many vendors to come to Vegas next week to telegraph the direction of the industry for the rest of the year and into early 2017.  Simple enough, right?

And, while the folks at CTIA might be positioning their event as “Everything Wireless,” I’ll be showing up for a handful of more specific reasons…

  • IoT, Of Course. Remember when Super Mobility Week used to be “CTIA Enterprise and Applications?”  Back in 2011 before it became “MobileCon?”  Well, if you do, you also know that the enterprise focus of CTIA’s fall event carried some momentum with it, including a solid focus on IoT.  Now, of course, the growing profile of IoT hasn’t hurt.  On that front, we’re very much in the middle of multiple IoT battles.  Sigfox vs. LoRa vs. Ingenu vs. NB-IoT on the access front. Carrier vs. carrier for momentum and credibility.  Enterprise use cases vs. Consumer use cases for market visibility.  Platform provider vs. platform provider battling for mindshare around requirements and solution completeness.  The entire IoT ecosystem vs. fence-sitters in an effort to move the market forward.  Just a quick look at my own CTIA meeting schedule says we’ll see these all play out next week.
  • 5G, Of Course. What would a wireless trade show circa 2016 be without 5G being a dominant theme?  I’m not sure there’s a good answer.  I am sure, however, that 5G circa September 2016 is much more worth paying attention to than it was last year, or even just six months ago.  Why?  We’re that much closer to knowing what a 5G Air Interface (5G New Radio - or NR) will look like.  That means we can expect to see vendors talk about more than 5G-ready baseband (like Ericsson did, today) and put into context plans for early 5G trials and launches here in the US.  It’s no revelation to say that 5G gets more “real” with every passing year and we will, doubtless, see this reflected in Super Mobility Week’s panels, sessions and associated vendor announcements.
  • 4.5G, Of Course. Vendor branding aside, we all know the 4.5G story; with 5G on the horizon, vendors need to remind their service provider customers that LTE has plenty of life in it, so that network investments don’t nosedive. If nothing else, vendors need to make sure that the folks on Wall Street understand this dynamic.  I’ve written about this before…and not just at the top of this column.  So, what’s changed?  Well, as we get ever closer to 5G commercialization, the temptation to just “wait it out” will only amplify. Add to that the fact that LTE continues to evolve, driven by vendor innovations, technology trials, and groups like the MulteFire Alliance and CBRS Alliance advocating for new spectrum in which to deploy.  If I were a betting man, I’d probably be spending more time at the Pai Gow table then on the show floor. I’d also wager that 4.5G news and innovations might even eclipse 5G bluster.
  • Everyone ❤ Vegas. Just like people who say they don’t like reality TV, I don’t believe anyone who says they don’t like Las Vegas. It’s got free drinks. It’s got good food. It’s got go karts, machine gun ranges, and that weird combination of golf, billiards and darts that people seem to love.  Next year’s event will be closer to Silicon Valley and, personally, I won’t mind the opportunity to sleep in my own bed every night.  But don’t even try to pretend you won’t miss a September visit to Vegas.
  • Drones, Drones, Drones.  When the telecom world first began integrating drones into their events, I was dubious.  It seemed like a semi-desperate attempt to get people to pay attention or, at the very least, seem hip.  I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong and that the scheduling of Interdrone in tandem with Super Mobility Week makes complete sense.  I’m not sure anyone knows the full gamut of drone use cases in the telecom space, but we’ve already seen a broad array highlighted by various industry players: unmanned tower inspection, airborne cell sites for temporary events, airborne cell sites for rural coverage, a cheaper method of delivering power-users that new smartphone or tablet…or maybe the pizza that never arrived back on Tuesday. It will be fun to watch the telecom industry figure out how drones fit into their businesses.  It will be even more fun to see the wacky things that don’t make sense but get tried anyway.

At this point, your plans for next week are likely set; you should already know if you’ll be at the 2016 edition of Super Mobility Week or not. If so, great – maybe I’ll see you there.  If not, no worries – we’ll try to have fun without you.  Part of that fun derives from the fact that this year, perhaps more than ever, CTIA’s fall event embodies myriad, meaningful transitions.  4G to 5G.  A world of unconnected “things.” The impending drone apocalypse. The show’s transition itself to Mobile World Congress Americas next year. 

Think of it like the opposite of an aging Elvis impersonator where we know how the transition will proceed and, eventually, end.  There’s a mystery, or uncertainty, here that should make this year’s Super Mobility Week compelling even if next year’s edition holds more promise.  Oh yeah, and you’ve got a much better chance of catching an Elvis impersonator in Vegas than you will in San Francisco next year.

Peter Jarich is the VP of Consumer and Infrastructure at Current Analysis. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.