Quiet Progress at CTIA

By Colin C. Haley

March 25, 2005

There were no mega-mergers out of the trade show, but plenty of evidence that the wireless industry is advancing toward its goals.

There were no mega-mergers announced at the recent CTIA Wireless show in New Orleans -- and that was probably just as well.

Instead of attending press conferences where CEOs would surely drone on about synergies, reporters and attendees walked the exhibit floor, I sat in on panel discussions and took in product demos.

What I found was the industry is making incremental, yet tangible, progress toward its long-held goals of convergence and ubiquity. Here are just a few examples:

A Memorable Phone Last year, Samsung introduced a phone with a 1.5GB hard drive and now the South Korean handset maker plans to double the memory.

It sounds like the phone will be marketed mostly to consumers, who could use extra space to store music, photos and video. Other versions could be tailored to business users for scheduling, contacts, document storage and messaging.

It also has Bluetooth and infrared synching, so data can be exchanged with devices at home or the office. Depending on price and applications, the phone could have interesting implications for the MP3 player and smartphone sectors.

If the offering is successful, it will also be a boon to Cornice, a small, privately-held Colorado company that is supplying Samsung with the hard drives.

Merger Malaise Talk of a merger between North American network equipment makers (remember the Cisco-Nortel rumors last spring?) has fizzled in recent months, with the players teaming with up-and-coming Asian manufacturers instead.

But there's still room for increased interoperability of the routers and switches, Lucent CEO Pat Russo said. For customers, that's a kind of consolidation, in as much as carriers and corporations, don't have to worry about being locked in to a specific vendor or technology.

Nortel CEO Bill Owens, a former U.S. Navy admiral with a reputation as a straight-shooter, got one of the few applause lines of the week during this panel.

When asked what will come after 3G , Owens said the industry should make sure today's technology works as well as it can before fretting too much about the next big thing.

The statement was well received by the crowd, many of whom had problems with mobile phone and Wi-Fi coverage at the convention center and Big Easy hotels.

Wi-Fi, WiMAX, Why not? Companies and industry groups who have fiercely battled for their specific standard are playing nice together.

The consensus appears to be that 3G (the two main flavors), WiMAX, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, all have a part to play in a world where phones and devices jump on and off several networks.

General support for wireless technologies doesn't always translate to universal support for initiatives in the space. For example, a proposal by Philadelphia officials to provide citywide Wi-Fi has met with opposition from established telecom gear makers and carriers who view it as an encroachment on their turf.

David Murashige, Nortel's vice president of strategic marketing, took the lighter side of the argument rather than delve into legal and regulatory minutia.

"The concept of competing with a government entity doesn't really keep me up at night to be honest with you," he said. " Pricing and billing are not core competencies of the city of Philadelphia."



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