Mobile health, smart grid in the spotlight at CTIA IT

As it celebrates its eleven-year anniversary, the International CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2009 show, which takes place Oct. 7-9 at the San Diego Convention Center, appears to be going back to its original roots as a predominantly mobile enterprise conference. The annual conference has often struggled with its identity--from 2004 until 2007 it had a strong entertainment focus. But now it is capitalizing on the industry push into various vertical enterprise segments. Those vertical markets, particularly health care and utilities, are where many believe the next stage of wireless industry growth will occur.

According to Rob Mesirow, vice president of operations at CTIA, the conference is finally fulfilling its original vision. "This is what it was originally designed to do--drive wireless into the enterprise," he said in an interview earlier this week. He also assured me that the show is expecting to draw a large number of attendees and isn't suffering from the down economy. "Everything looks strong," he said.

Aside from the enterprise focus, the big buzz at the show likely will be on the policy side. On Monday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski revealed his plans to implement net neutrality and open Internet regulations against both wireless and wireline companies. This decision sent shockwaves throughout the industry, needling wireless carriers fearful of what this will mean for existing business models and spectrum holdings. CTIA advantageously secured Genachowski as a keynote speaker for the opening of the CTIA Wireless IT conference Oct. 7. That keynote likely will draw a big crowd. Sharing the stage with Genachowski will be AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega, Yahoo! Mobile Senior Vice President David Ko and Chris Baker, senior vice president of shared services and CIO of San Diego Gas and Power. "The FCC recognizes that this is what these events are for," Mesirow said. The FCC wants to "reach out to the industry, and this is the place to do it."

Aside from the policy angle, CTIA has been working hard to get the key players in all the vertical segments to attend the conference. The association is hoping that by locating the show in San Diego, where many wireless firms are headquartered and already catering to vertical segments, it can overcome that difficulty. Clearly, San Diego wireless heavyweight Qualcomm will have a strong showing at the conference. Qualcomm Chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs and his father, Irwin Jacobs, the firm's co-founder, will be keynoting the conference Oct. 8, along with AT&T CTO John Donovan. Qualcomm has been very aggressively courting the various vertical segments through its smart services division, and this summer hosted a Smart Services Leadership Summit where it emphasized mobile health care and smart grid technologies.

Also, CTIA is trying something new for its keynote session Oct. 9. Instead of having a speaker or group of speakers, conference organizers are instead hosting a Fund Fest that will call for the CEOs of five or six startups to talk about their companies. These firms have been selected by a review committee from more than 100 applicants. Mesirow said that CTIA believes that these firms will draw the attention of potential investors in the audience. "We want to see if we can help get ideas out there," he said.

As always, the Fierce editorial team will be covering the CTIA IT show in San Diego next month. Look for all the latest show coverage and photos in FierceWireless, FierceMobileContent, FierceDeveloper and FierceMobileIT, and at our CTIALive website. --Sue