CTIA Wireless 2007 Roundup

CTIA Wireless 2007 Roundup



Orlando was the venue for CTIA Wireless 2007. Pre-show events include Mobile Entertainment Live (Billboard), day long seminars on Mobile Advertising and Emerging Technology. The main themes from the show were Mobile Advertising, NFC and Mobile Payments, Mobile TV, and WiMAX. This note summarizes the observations, interviews of executives, pre-show briefings, and commentary from the above shows.

First let’s do the numbers  Just before CTIA, M:Metrics released some numbers from their most recent survey. At the end of 2006, amongst the western nations, US had approximately 11% 3G penetration with Italy leading the way with 27%. Photo messaging is picking up reaching 15-30% penetration in most markets. CTIA also released their survey numbers. 233M subs, 76% penetration, and $8.7 billion for the latter six months of 2006, up 82% from $4.8 billion in the latter half of 2005. You probably already knew most of the above after reading our research note here. Instat reported that for the first time the handset replacement market was greater than the new purchase market. Replacement market is expected to take 80% share by 2011.

Keynotes  Attendees come to keynotes to be inspired, to get a sense of the direction of our industry. Unfortunately, some use the opportunity as a sales platform and rehash of press releases. What a waste of time and the platform. What an insult to the audience. I thought the best keynote came from EMI CEO Eric Nicoli, who first eloquently laid out the potential of the industry and then brought us back to reality by outlining the hurdles that we need to overcome to realize the potential. At the most basic level, it is all about simplicity, valuable functionality, and the right pricing. However, the highlight of the show was being in the same room (along with a few hundred others) with two former heads of state – Presidents Bush and Clinton.

Mobile Advertising  As expected, the hottest theme out of this CTIA was Mobile Advertising. The pre-event seminar on the subject was packed with discussions and viewpoints from all parts of the value chain. The involvement of agencies was refreshing. They can help guide the industry by articulating the needs of the brands and agencies in an overall advertising framework, develop standards, and not develop point solutions that won’t scale beyond MDF campaigns. But they are keenly aware of mobile and reported positive results from their tests for some big brands. David Rittenhouse from Ogilvy noted that Lenova experienced 188% lift (n=1495) in awareness from a mobile ad campaign. Third Screen reported up to 7.5% click rates on its network. Still missing were Internet players like Google and Yahoo. Vendor driven standardization processes are not very productive and take too long to become meaningful. Since, mobile advertising is the most buzzable topic in the industry right now; companies are adjusting their positioning to become mobile advertising players (akin to becoming Web 2.0 compliant). There was some debate whether off-deck impression is worth more than an on-deck impression. CPMs are a bit out of whack and will need to drop and stabilize. Premium CPMs range from $27-35 going as high as $60. User profile is of course the holy grail of mobile advertising. Visa demonstrated that mobile advertisements isn’t really limited to messaging, keyword auction, and banner ads, but also includes promotions that drop in your applications based on your transaction history. Can carriers stop them from running this downloadable app on the device? They are running some trials to find that out. Code/Image-based advertising is also picking up – Qcode, NFC, barcodes, pictures, etc as input to trigger content/ad delivery is making its way to the US.

Amongst the various enablers (that I was able to talk to and look at), The Hyperfactory has the most comprehensive view of the space and it shows in their campaigns. Not only cross carriers and cross handsets, but also cross modality and cross countries. Mobile Advertising needs to seamlessly fit in the overall digital strategy of a brand or else there will be too much friction. GSM association has taken some lead in helping define standards in this space. MMA is also updating its best practice guide though it needs to do more to expand its vision. Companies that made their presence felt were Third Screen Media, Ad Infuse, Millennial Media, Yahoo, Smaato, Mindmatics, Bango, Medio, JumpTap, Blyk, Admob, iLoopMobile, GreyStripe, Enpocket, and Rhythm.

Not to be outdone, Alcatel-Lucent and Motorola were also showing some future mobile advertising concepts that allow for cross medium advertising. For e.g. purchasing or activating advertising subsidized content on one device (like mobile) and viewing on another (like IPTV) and the experience is subsidized and interstitialized with advertisements.

Note: As some of you know, we have been involved in helping players in the value chain with mobile advertising strategy for the past two years. Well, we are now writing the book on it, literally! This book on Mobile Advertising is a collaboration with two brilliant co-authors and is going to be published by a major publisher. It will explore the key elements that will make mobile advertising tick. If you know of interesting case studies or people we should talk to, please do let us know. Check out our two part series on the subject published in Wireless World Magazine. Track the progress and become part of the conversation and the book at http://www.chetansharma.com/blog/category/mobile-advertising

Mobile TV  With Mediaflo’s launch, the discussion in the US has changed from unicast/multicast to broadcast. With Cingular and Verizon adopting Mediaflo, it is hard to see DVB-H’s future in the US. Spent some time with Dr. Kamil Grajski, Chairman of the FLO forum. FLO’s advantage comes from better channel switching time and slightly better spectrum efficiency. The goal is to pursue individual partnerships by geography that fuses spectrum, technology, and content. KDDI partnership is such an example. The quality is very impressive and the user experience raises the bar. With the introduction of clipcasting that enables some personalized content filtering on the device (e.g. Entire NASDAQ quotes are streamed but only your portfolio is displayed), broadcast can extract more value from the spectrum. Though Mediaflo has an edge, the future beyond the US shores is tough. Majority of Europe is going to go to DVB-H and similar standards. But, the potential customers are not only cellular operators but also include cable and satellite operators. Companies looking for Triple and Quad play strategies will have to come up with their mobile Broadcast strategy in the next couple of years. While Mobile TV has been in the headlines for some time, the penetration in the US remains quite low – around 2% and represents less than $350M revenue in 2006 (European trends are similar). For the opportunity to scale, pricing and business models will need to be adjusted to market realities. Mobile TV has been around in Japan and Korea for a longer duration and has reached critical mass penetration. Unicast becomes expensive if the usage gets into double digits because pricing pressure doesn’t allow for monetizing by the MB. Broadcast becomes the natural solution but it is limited by spectrum, less interactivity, and lack of handsets in the short-term. Clearly, hybrid models will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. For broadcast, it is about the spectrum first and the technology second.

Near Field Communication (NFC)  VISA has been running NFC trials around the country for some time with VISA credit cards (30K) and POS terminals (50K). The goal is to do NFC on the phone. VISA also released numbers from their NA survey (n=800) – 57% interested, 64% of Gen X/Y will consider switching carriers and credit card for mobile payment capability, by 5:1, consumers prefer to have charges on their credit card bill rather than their phone bill. The first generation of NFC phones is hitting the US market later this year. Kyocera demonstrated buying from a vending machine, downloading content, and doing internet transactions using an NFC-enabled prototype handset. It also had a biometric fingerprint sensor. Korea and Japanese market have been using phone as a wallet for some time (e.g. DoCoMo’s FeliCa) and it will be great to see such enhancements in Europe and North America. There is a demand for such solutions, Visa is providing leadership, and hopefully, the ecosystem will step up. Last year, in US, $7.2Trillion dollars worth of consumer financial transactions took place. Taking a small cut of this pie will be a big deal. Enabler to watch – Ecrio.

Biometrics  NTT DoCoMo introduced handset with biometric capability in 2003, we expect to see it introduced in the US in first half of 2008. AuthenTec has been dominating the market for both PC/laptops and mobile phones. Japan has reached about 10% penetration for biometric sensors in mobile devices. ROW is just getting started. HTC is introducing some devices (for the US market) with biometric sensors later this year.

Mobile Search  Google and Yahoo announced their next release of mobile/local search. Google’s attempts at mobile search reminds me of Microsoft’s early attempts to build an OS for mobile phones. I thought AskMeNow’s semantic search was pretty good though they are still working on indexing which can take a long time due to understanding content. With the recent purchases of BeVocal and TellMe, voice is getting its due attention. V-enable showed their local 411 app and Nuance talked about voice-enabled music search. Voice has become an integral part of any mobile search (and ad) strategy.

Interesting handsets  While the industry is waiting for the June launch of iPhone, several new concepts and phones emerged at the show. Hopefully, NA operators got inspired from the handsets available in Asia and will bring some of that experience here. Samsung launched its dual-faced Ultra. While, it is a first for the industry, the user experience left lot to be desired, the Sharp touch UI is confusing. DoCoMo had the best selection on display. Flipstart is launching a $2000 mobile device (UMPC form factor), which has full PC running on it. It does have some clever user experience enhancements that make the usability acceptable but I am not sure if the price point will hold in the market where you can find an equally powerful laptop for half the price.

User Interface  Apple’s iPhone has raised the bar on device user experience. Zenzui announced their UX technology (based on Microsoft IP) that takes us away from the boring menu-based navigation schemes. Punchcut showed what’s possible utilizing the idle screen. Flipstart had some clever UX enhancements that I hope can get integrated into other forms of computing. Biometric sensors also surprisingly prove to be a good navigation element, better than 5 key dial and even iPOD dial.

Simplicity  EMI’s Nicoli had emphasized on simplicity of applications and services. AT&T’s COO Randall Stephenson echoed similar sentiments. It is a no-brainer, right? So, why do we make things inherently complex and hard-to-use? Hasn’t Apple taught us enough? Ontela’s mobile imaging platform is following on Apple’s footsteps. The technology allows you to take the picture and store it on any other device or destination within 30-60 seconds. No user intervention. It just works.  

GYM is in the house  It was the first CTIA with Google and Yahoo having their own booths, announcing their arrival. Their presence was telling of the battles to come. Microsoft has been coming to the show for some time but primarily to show their devices and talk about enterprise (email) applications.

LBS and Telematics There were a number of firms talking about telematics or navigation on the phone or devices for your car. Navteq, TeleAtlas, TeleNav, Inrix, Pharos, Kore, deCarta, and many others displayed their wares. On the consumer side, navigation is getting embedded into Local search apps which are enhancing the user experience quite a bit. FindIt and Google Maps are two examples. TCS is working on a framework for LBS based mobile advertising that allows carriers and users to control location availability to applications, something I wrote about back in 2001. Sprint has raised the bar by opening the APIs for developers and loosening the pricing friction. GSM operators are awaiting the arrival of OMA compliant phones. European carriers are targeting Christmas 2007 to launch several OMA SUPL devices while US will see such devices from Cingular next year. The best navigation was from Churchill Navigation which gives you a bird’s eye view in a fun-interactive experience.

WiMax. Sprint showed some potential launch devices for their WiMax service. Initially, the focus is limited to data cards and UMPCs. There will be restrictions on data usage and the move to handset form factor devices is uncertain. Samsung showed video conferencing at 12fps and VoIP on WiMax devices (PDA form factor). Since Intel put a boat load of money into Clearwire and Sprint’s endorsement, WiMax industry has been surging ahead but long-term viability is still not certain, how fast will device pricing drop?                

China  While China can’t make up its mind on TD-SCDMA, Chinese manufacturers are increasingly competing with the big boys, the handset rollouts and infrastructure wins are a testament to that. They should just let go of their obsession with TD-SCDMA, there are plenty of opportunities for their manufacturers. Canada, Finland, Taiwan, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, Korea, and UK also had Intl pavilions.

The ecosystem friction  The mobile data ecosystem tension is bubbling up. It was highlighted in the first session of the conference – Jim Ryan (Cingular) vs. Larry Shapiro (Disney) well moderated by Tom Wheeler (past CTIA President). Carriers want control (some more than others) so that they can manage user experience and minimize customer support calls. Content companies want to bypass the carrier and go direct to the consumer. Things are improving but not at the pace everyone would like it to be. This debate is not going away. Perhaps, CTIA can demonstrate some leadership in kicking-off some content interoperability (and treat ad as content) initiatives.

Test equipment  Whether it is entertainment or enterprise, very little attention is given to testing and monitoring data applications and services. Keynote launched its on-demand platform for testing and monitoring for developers who for $500/day can test on live devices anywhere in the world. This service can significantly lower down the cost of procuring handsets and doing testing.

Coolest booth  In my travels around the world, in every major city, you can’t escape the massive ads from Samsung and LG. CTIA is no different. The plastered ads all over and the booth from these two Korean companies were clearly the pick of the show with LG edging out its arch-rival by creating a gigantic music player.

Misc. News.

  • Performance of the free WiFi at the convention center was much better than previous CTIAs.
  • Community CurrencyHookmobile has been working with carriers and content owners to create variable currency for content – branded, ads, or UGC. It is around Mobile Trading Community and using content to digitize trading cards, create some exclusivity and hence some viral effect. In future users can create their own trading cards for their social network. This is a good use for the MMS infrastructure that is collecting dust right now.
  • Enterprise – Mobile Advertising, NFC/Mobile Payments, and Mobile TV overwhelmed any discussion on enterprise mobility. Motorola (Symbol) launched their Enterprise Digital Assistant – MC35.
  • M&A scene was as dry as the Sahara desert, but several funding press releases hit the wires. Deal of the week – Verizon’s $6 billion deal with Alcatel-Lucent.
  • FMC. Lot of FMC discussion. As triple/quadplay and convergence get closer to reality, there is a lot of focus on FMC. From IPTV to Mobile to Vo[X] to Push-to-X, there were lots of demos and discussions.
  • DoCoMo showcased their “Bone Conduction Receiver Microphone” that helps hearing in noisy locations and for people with hearing difficulties. Very cool.
  • 3rd Dimension demonstrated a live mobile traffic cam application.

Your comments are always welcome.

Chetan Sharma