CTIA Wireless 2008 Roundup

CTIA Wireless 2008 Roundup

CTIA Wireless 2008 Roundup


The Sin City hosted CTIA Wireless 2008 earlier this week. On Wednesday morning, just before leaving for the convention center, I caught some portion of Ben Bernanke’s congressional testimony on the US economy woes. Few minutes later, strolling the show floor, talking to various companies, and hearing the keynotes, it seemed like I was on a different planet. Either someone failed to deliver the memo or the wireless industry is resilient enough to weather the turmoil in the financial and housing markets with some ease. The show was bigger with more attendees, the booths were returning to their glamorous heydays of the past, and the general buzz and energy at the show all seem to indicate the industry is going to do just fine and is primed for further growth. The general themes were around open network and access, user experience, and bandwidth.

This note summarizes our impressions from the show.

CTIA Wireless in Pictures

First let’s do the numbers: CTIA released their semi-annual statistics on the US market. In summary: For 2007, $23B in data revenues, 2 trillion in MOU, $139B in total service revenues, 48B txt messages/month. (We released our US Market and Global Market updates last month)

Keynotes: In terms of style, Sir Richard Branson stole the show with his pompous exuberance and pep talk (the talk of imaginary flight to Mars was hilarious; investors in Microgin and Viroo must be upset). For substance, Marco Boerries, President, Yahoo Mobile gave a nice compact overview of Yahoo initiatives and products in the market which are pretty darn good. (Marco wrote an opinion piece for our Mobile Advertising Book – “The future of Advertising is in the Consumers’ Pockets”). Yahoo has sewn together a number of deals worldwide that gives them a potential reach of over 600M users.

Vodafone is one operator which has been quite vocal in stating its positions on future infrastructure roadmap and data opportunities. Arun Sarin is probably the only CEO of major global operator who has publicly stated that Mobile Advertising will constitute a significant portion of their revenues in the coming days (Arun’s point person on the initiative Richard Saggers also wrote an opinion piece for our book “Opportunities for Mobile Advertising.” Let me know if you are interested in reading these two opinion pieces).

Microsoft’s Robbie Bach had the tough task of following the Branson-fest. He announced the arrival of a full-blown browser (finally!) for windows mobile. Also, the new windows mobile device from Sony Ericsson (Xperia) looks pretty darn cool. FCC Chairman Martin announced the rejection of Skype petition on the carterphone principle (to Skype’s dismay, it was not an April fool’s joke). Clearly, the definition of “open” is in the eye of the beholder. It means different things to different people. It has also been clear from the various activities and keynotes that the industry is trying its utmost to remain a “Self-regulated” industry and stay away from the clutches of eager politicians.

Lowell McAdam, CEO of Verizon Wireless conducted a panel with CEOs from Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and Nortel and probed them on the 4G migration path, trends in applications and services, and contrasts in adoption and introduction of new technology in various parts of the world. Final day was marked by what is now becoming a trend – keynotes from politicians. This time around Sen. Edwards and Sen. Thompson graced the podium.

Mobile Advertising: In talking with numerous players in the value chain from small developers to large operators to ad networks to media companies, the impression was that things have matured over the last six months. It was gratifying to hear that some companies are adopting strategies and recommendations we propose in our book. Still, some of the basic problems remain – majority of the inventory remain unsold indicating weak demand, CPM rates are still over-rated though they are starting to come down, and fragmentation continues to remain an issue.

The good news is that the size of the mobile campaign budgets are getting bigger with several seven figure RFPs floating around. While some companies are still trying to throw a lot at the wall in the hope that something sticks, others are maturing as companies and are more focused in their positioning and product roadmaps. Integration of various channels is starting to appear on the horizon and the integration with the publishers is becoming tighter. The issue of measurement and auditing standards remains a big issue and unfortunately not much progress to report. There are carrier initiatives and various industry bodies are taking the challenge to rally the ecosystem, but, frankly, consolidation of such efforts is necessary, we can’t afford yet another layer of fragmentation in an already complex ecosystem.

We were interviewed on Mobile Advertising prior to the show by several publications. Some of the articles were published this week to coincide with CTIA

Wireless Wave (CTIA)Moving Targets: Mobile marketing reaches consumers on their terms by Lynn Thorne

BrandWeekMobile Marketing – Fantasy vs. Reality by Ken Hein

Wall Street JournalPersonalized promotions: Sending the right ads to your phone – Peggy Anne Salz

NFC: There were many more NFC-enabled devices on display this time and vendors were talking and demoing NFC and Biometrics based payment solutions. While there are handsets on the roadmap, this market is still very nascent in North America and Western Europe.

Inspiration: The inspiration for new and creative services still comes (at least for yours truly) from Japan (and Korea). I love spending time in DoCoMo’s booth for it gives a glimpse into what’s to come. No other company better understands the development of devices, services and applications that overlay on lifestyles than DoCoMo (e.g. a wellness handset that is a pedometer, heart rate monitor, body and bad breath monitor and yes, you can make voice calls too). They view wireless air-interfaces as nothing more than enablers to solutions that enhance daily lives. Various device manufacturers also displayed some really cool devices. The quality and diversity of handsets that have been introduced into the global markets over the last four quarters is just astonishing. The cycle of innovation and time-to-market keeps on accelerating.

Femto Cells: A number of players like Airwalk, Airvana, and others are bringing Femto cell solutions to the market and carriers are starting to pull this into their strategy as well and look forward to deployments beyond the trials.

4G: LTE vs. WiMAX (vs. UMB): Since the decision of Vodafone and Verizon to support LTE, UMB has been disappearing from the discussion. The 4G discussion is convulsing around LTE and WiMAX now (though Nortel did indicate its support TD-SCDMA as a 4G candidate). Without a doubt the operator community is rallying behind LTE and there might be an opportunity to finally converge to a single standard (haven’t we seen this movie before) but frankly, the advances in silicon to integrate multiple radios has made the standards debate less relevant. WiMAX has forced acceleration of LTE standardization process but is starting to lose its time (and cost) advantage. All eyes are on Sprint’s XOHM business rollouts in the coming days and months.

Accessories: I have never seen so many accessory and reseller outfits at a CTIA show. Business must be booming.

Best Booth: Thought there were several good layouts, LG and Samsung continue to impress with their creativity and “art of marketing.”

Developer and Publisher woes: Along with John Philips (Astraware) and Peter Baldwin (Cellmania), I helped facilitate a few developer session at the Mobile Jam Session organized by WIP. The issues of distribution, discovery, and monetization remain challenging for the small developers worldwide. Even with million user base, they are finding it difficult to monetize but we did discuss a number of success stories. The core elements of success that emerged from the discussion were: choosing the right market, embedding viral component into everything you throw out there, there is no room for mediocrity, and personalizing and customizing go a long way to get traction. An interesting tidbit: the number of page views for mobile MySpace app is a magnitude higher on off-deck vs. ondeck. Several of the companies are trying mobile advertising with varying degrees of success. After spending 4 hours with the developers, I sat on a carrier panel discussing mobile advertising. The contrast between the two worlds was so apparent. Clearly, more needs to be done to help both sides understand each other a bit better.

Green CTIA: There is a stronger emphasis on recycling and contributing to save the environment. The show itself is a big resource hog, so every bit helps.

Alternate Mobile Devices: The universe of alternate devices is expanding. Companies are buying wholesale data packages from the operators and integrating broadband chipsets into hardware to do digital signage (ICG), M2M (Sensorlogic), PND and much more. The definition of being “mobile” keeps on changing.

On Being “Open”: Obviously, given the recent activity around openness, getting a penny for each time the word was uttered by a speaker would have paid off for a lifetime of CTIA trips. While talk is cheap, demonstrable progress is being made by the likes Yahoo, Apple (btw, 3G iPhone is on its way), and AOL.

Another MVNO experiences turmoil: Movida – a Spanish focused MVNO which has garnered almost 300K subs filed for chapter 11.

Voice is becoming mainstream: With the product launches from Nuance, SpinVox, Vlingo, Jott, Yahoo, and many others, voice based navigation and its tighter integration with data services is becoming mainstream.

Where are the opportunities? Last week, I was moderating a panel with executives from AOL Mobile, T-Mobile, Motricity, and Formotus and the themes that emerged were around platform play, user experience, and productivity. At CTIA, in addition to these areas, there was a lot of discussion around social networking (though the market is being saturated with the MoSo noise). It is also clear that we are moving into the phase of “aggregation of fragmentation” with initiatives from Yahoo, AOL, and Google dominating the landscape.

Home Screen Effect: I have been talking about using the home screen for driving data usage for the last 8 years. I think we will see good innovation this year on that front starting with Yahoo’s One Platform. There are several other initiatives in the works where operators and OEMs will be deploying frameworks and technologies to bring information to a “click-less” idle screen environment.

Overall, no major news but industry stays vibrant, healthy, and exciting.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma

Disclosure: Some of the companies mentioned in this note are our clients.