Wi-Fi, the Name of the Game at CTIA 2003

Hype may be shorter in supply at CTIA Wireless 2003 in New Orleans next week than it has been in previous years, but what the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association’s conference won’t be short on is Wi-Fi , according to Jupiter Research wireless analyst Avi Greengart.

Greengart expects there will be “Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi everywhere,” at the show, adding that he will be looking for a number of attempts to take the 802.11b technology deeper into the enterprise with a number of security, management and planning tools plays.

Among major vendors with Wi-Fi products on display will be Microsoft , which is sponsoring the Microsoft Mobility Developer Conference in conjunction with the show. Microsoft’s Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will provide the show’s closing keynote address. A number of Microsoft divisions plan announcements at the show. Microsoft Mobile Devices will have news about Microsoft’s Windows Powered device software, and .NET Mobile Developer is planning news for developers looking to target the mobile market. In addition, the MapPoint unit plans announcements regarding Microsoft’s .NET location-based service platform, MapPoint Web Service.

IBM will also be on hand to provide an update on its involvement with the Cometa Networks and to talk about its role in deploying Wi-Fi in nationwide truck stops and its technology partnership with BellSouth and Cirque de Soleil.

Among its announcements, Hewlett-Packard will provide an update on a joint initiative with Starbucks and T-Mobile to deliver high-speed data services to hotspots, and also plans to demonstrate hotspot roaming. HP will also be showing off new solutions for mobile voice and data services, and new wireless capabilities for HP devices like notebooks, Tablet and Pocket PCs, and new arrangements with mobile operators to enable customers with HP devices to access multiple CDMA and GPRS networks. In addition, it will offer a look at new software technologies for the development of wireless printing applications within the Microsoft .NET framework.

Lucent will stack its deck with both Wi-Fi and 3G offerings. It is playing up its “WiFi on the Move” demonstration, which will use a specially equipped bus traveling near the conference center to show how hotspots can be connected to the Internet via 3G mobile networks. Lucent said the bus will be outfitted with an on-board 802.11b wireless local area network (WLAN) access point, which will be connected to the Internet through a CDMA2000 1xEV-DO link. It also plans to show off its ability to provide interoperability between CDMA2000 and UMTS networks. Among the other demonstrations, it plans to offer a look at a High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) prototype system from Bell Labs.

Intel , of course, will be offering an in-depth look at its new Centrino chipset, a combination of Intel’s Pentium M processor, the Intel 855 chipset family and its PRO/Wireless 2100 Network Connection card that is built into the laptop near the motherboard. However, the Intel PXA800F cellular processor, which offers “wireless-Internet-on-a-chip” technology, is also sure to get its fair share of attention. The technology, designed to help mobile phones and PDAs combine voice communications and Internet access capabilities, brings together processing, flash memory and communications functions on a single chip.

Of course, Wi-Fi won’t be getting all the attention at the show. Greengart said he expects to see PC cards which combine GPRS and Wi-Fi, improved internal antenna technology for handsets, lots of competing mobile software development environments, and even the beginning of the long prophesied Bluetooth market.

“I don’t think it’s the year Bluetooth is going to take off, but I do think it’s the year Bluetooth is going to be established,” Greengart said.

One thing that isn’t likely to be much in evidence is 3G. Greengart noted that carriers have scaled back their plans for 2.5G and 3G deployment, which has caused the market for network equipment makers to stagnate. What investment in 3G equipment is happening is being driven by capacity needs, not data demands, Greengart said.

“None of the other equipment guys are really making money yet,” he said. “The big news from people like Lucent is ‘hey, we haven’t gone out of business.’ Lucent and Nortel are still around and they will be around. They’ve re-jiggered their product line so they won’t go out of business, but we’re not seeing rapid or even moderate growth.”

Where carriers are paying attention, and it may be a theme at the show, is text messaging. While text messaging has been a “huge” market in Europe for the past two years, it has seen slower adoption in the U.S. But U.S. carriers are doing a lot of effective television advertising and tie-ins with television shows these days, Greengart said, all in support of another theme of the wireless telecommunications industry this year: “make money off of what you’ve already got.”

As for handsets themselves, Greengart predicted that 2003 will be the year of the Korean firms, with the ascendancy of both LG Mobile Phones and Samsung — both of which plan to show off their handsets to effect at the show.

“The Koreans are taking over,” Greengart said. “They’ve been pushing really high-volume, low-feature content phones in the past and they’ve really moved up market. They’ve kept a focus on the cheaper market as well.”

He added, “And you can’t forget Sony Ericsson, who for the first time in years look like they might almost, possibly have gotten their act together.” He said Sony Ericsson’s new footing is based mostly on the strengths of its handsets and the fact that it has now assessed its customers and begun creating phones to appeal to those customers.

Jupiter Research is a unit of Jupitermedia , parent of internetnews.com.

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