CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2008 Roundup

CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2008 Roundup

CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2008 Roundup


CTIA in pictures

San Francisco hosted the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2008 show earlier this week. In addition, there were some pre-show events like Billboard’s Mobile Entertainment Live and Mobile Web Strategies. This note summarizes our impressions from the week.

First, Let’s do the numbers CTIA released its mid-year survey results. Bob Roche and John-Paul Edgette at CTIA do a great service to the industry by compiling 6-month of useful data and making it available at each CTIA. In Summary –  262.7M subs, $14.78B in data revenues accounting for 20.3% service revenues, 75B TXT messages/month. We released our US Mobile Data Update for Q208 last month, Global Update coming later this month.

Overall Impression – This year’s show was one of the dullest in recent memory, devoid of any buzz, energy, or announcements. Maybe it was due to the 50,000 other events happening the same week (many in San Francisco). Or maybe, Bernanke’s congressional testimony is playing out in the wireless industry. Or maybe it is just conference-fatigue.

My week started early as I had the honor of giving a keynote address to a group of influential executives at major international operators and agencies worldwide at a well-organized private event. The topic was “US Mobile Advertising: Today and Tomorrow.” We delved into what’s working and what’s not and what will it take to get the industry to the next level, which players are likely to succeed and why?

Next day, I split my time between Mobile Entertainment Live organized by BillBoard and Mobile Web Strategies chaired by our friend Ajit Jaokar. While most of it was rehash of previous events, presentation by Jouko Ahvenainen of Xtract was probably the standout for me where he talked in detail about the importance of “analytics” and “intelligence” in advertising and social media. One of the interesting announcements/discussion was from Nokia regarding “Comes w/ Music” to be launched in UK next month – music subscription is bundled with the device as long as the device is from Nokia. Reliance Entertainment also announced its aggressive push into the US market.

Trip down the memory lane US Wireless Industry is celebrating 25 years of existence. Steve Largent invited Craig McCaw and John Stanton to reminiscence about the good old days – $4000 phones, hundreds of dollars of monthly bills, no roaming, 30 min talk time, obligatory 100 lbs bricksters. Craig emphasized on innovation while Stanton accurately put his finger on the big picture – US operators aren’t thinking like global companies or the media companies and can’t succeed in the new economy over the long haul. Spot On, John.

My first job was with a company that wrote the billing software for McCaw Communications in the early nineties (at that time, I was writing code for fraud prevention using RF fingerprinting for GTE, Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, Nynex, Airtouch, and the likes .. those were the days)

Open is in the Air With each CTIA over the last 18 months, carriers’ embrace of “Openness” is getting tighter and more nuanced. It is amazing how competitive threat can help disrupt the status-quo. While the keynote session sounded very scripted, each of the 3 CEOs from T-Mobile (Dotson), Sprint Nextel (Hesse), and Verizon (Lowell) are putting in place their “Open” Strategy (the current no. 1 operator was MIA). T-Mobile is launching an Apple-like App-Store next week with 50-50% rev-share which goes up to 30-70% in favor of the app developer but advertising is allowed (unlike iPhone Appstore). Streaming is also not allowed. Tricia at Moconews has more details. The balance between open network, customer care cost, and application performance can be a tricky one and everyone is tiptoeing the boiling waters carefully.

My favorite quips:

Hesse – “We have opened the network, Knock yourself out”

Lowell – “Our definition of open is irrelevant, it is what the customer wants”

Dotson – “Walled garden is a thing of the past”

It should be noted that two of the biggest success stories in the industry – iPhone and Blackberry are closed systems. Everything boils down to user-experience and value. We shouldn’t lose sight of that in the Open debate.

Yahoo’s oneConnect Marco Boerries, EVP, Yahoo! (read the piece he wrote for our Mobile Advertising book here) gave a keynote second CTIA running. These guys aren’t distracted by the Microsoft acquisition drama and remain the bright spot in an otherwise flailing organization. Over the past few months, they keep on refining their distribution and monetization strategy but they do need to attract droves of developers to make the initiative successful. Marco announced the launch of “Blueprint” – a framework for building mobile Internet apps and services. The trick is of course to attract developers. AOL is also pursuing a similar strategy.

Mobile Advertising There was a lot of discussion around mobile advertising each day with some new players emerging. Companies like Hipcricket (and many many others) are making real progress but I get a sense of “being stuck” from some of the players. Maybe, it is a function of the economy, or perhaps – fragmentation, lack of education, metrics, is keeping the industry from opening up.

CTIA released a whitepaper on 2D bar code scanning. Good to see some progress but the big question is – who takes the initiative to spend marketing dollars to educate the consumers and to make 2D bar codes pervasive in the US.

Carriers are getting more active in pursuing their mobile advertising strategies but I still see some fundamental missteps. Keep an eye on some of the work we will release later in the year to help guide the discussion, hopefully, in the right direction.

Mobile Social Networking Lot of discussion around mobile social networking (infact too much at times, even the mobile email player Visto considers itself a social networking company now), mobile only social networking, monetization challenges and opportunities. Most of the players are just aggressively focused on building an audience as quickly as possible. The monetization strategies include advertising, value added services, app store. Verizon and ATT announced their social networking strategies (built on the back of Intercasting’s platform) which essentially focus on social networking aggregation. This keeps them pretty safe and relevant. Current monetization model is that of subscription and maybe advertising down the road. For mobile only players the models varies from advertising heavy (Mocospace) to VAS heavy (mig33).

M2M The percentage of M2M companies in the mix increased compared to last time. For the first time I saw, carrier booths in M2M pavilion which was quite interesting. They clearly see this is a growing segment.

Smartphone Mania Devices like iPhone and Instinct are accounting for a disproportionately high share of the mobile download business now. And if data services is the only growth engine, why worry about launching sub-ARM9 devices, the economics is pointing towards cheaper smartphones on a fast network, it doesn’t make sense to port to 50 other devices when 80% of the revenue will come from a small subset of the devices.

For those of you attended the show, hopefully, it warmed you up for a really great mobile event being organized by GigaOM – Mobilize. Some terrific set of speakers and panels. I will be moderating two excellent panels (details below).

Your feedback is always welcome.


Chetan Sharma

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