Quiet Progress at CTIA

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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