Tag Archives: ctia

U.S. mobile show reboots with international scope and brains. Mostly

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Rebranding and a return to San Francisco has reversed CTIA’s slide into trade show oblivion. Now known as the Mobile World Congress Americas and run by GSMA, the outfit that puts on the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, the show is drawing a more international crowd and a better class of speakers. Or at least speakers that are living up to MWC’s standards.

The first keynote yesterday featured Carlos Slim Domit, the chairman of America Movil, which is the largest mobile telecoms company in Latin America, and the fourth largest in the world. He talked a little bit about his company and a lot about the road ahead in Latin America, where mobile telecoms are taking on a central and growing role in everyday life, and where carriers are struggling with ever increasing demand for bandwidth on the one hand, and a deep digital gulf that mirrors social divisions on the other.

Slim was followed by Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. His speech didn’t break any news, but it was a lucid overview of the issues the FCC is taking on this year, with a focus on mobile topics in general and spectrum availability in particular.

It was a welcome contrast to recent CTIA keynotes, which over the past few years featured elaborate marketing videos accompanied by increasingly junior executives grinning their way through vapid scripts that might have been written by Mister Rogers. As if to remind us how good we have it now, CTIA president Meredith Attwell Baker briefly took us back to the bad old days with a third grade-level, walk-about-the-stage presentation complete with pictures of puppies.

The new MWC Americas show owes a lot to its roots. In Europe, speakers are expected to offer whatever wisdom they can about the topic at hand, rather than deliver tacky sales pitches or smarmy presentations. The show still has one major problem, though: head to head competition with Apple’s annual fall launch event. It’ll never win that fight, particularly since next year’s show is the same week (although they’re moving it to Los Angeles). Even in the press room, where one might expect live streams from the conference program, the video display was stuck on an endless replay of Tim Cook and friends.

Smart policy has to lead smart technology to make a smart city

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Nobody knows what a smart city is. Or rather, everybody defines smart city differently, depending on individual goals: it’s a means to an end.

For equipment makers and service providers, a city is smart if it buys their stuff. To a network operator, a smart city is one that hangs that stuff, whatever it might be, on its network. On the private sector side, the smart city vision is marketing driven and has a distinctly vertical focus – there was little or no interest in horizontal integration on display at the smart city panel sessions I sat in on at the CTIA show in Las Vegas last week.

One critical missing item was thoughtful discussion of interoperability between like-to-like services or interconnection of competing networks. Another was an independent, open source operating platform that ties vertical applications together, and serves as a portal to open data that anyone can put to use. Vendors will try to make their own products work together, and network operators will do what is practicable to accomodate as many applications and devices as possible, but that’s as far as it goes. Or at least as far as the couple dozen companies that took part in the CTIA sessions I saw, or presented at the Telit conference the day before, will go.

It’ll take more to than just deploying remote sensors and controls by the truckload to make a city smart. The first question that needs to be answered is what do you hope to accomplish? With the exception of the panel that included two prominent big city mayors and a state CIO, that question was ignored at the CTIA show.

But even they spoke in terms of specific policy objectives – focused goals like traffic signal optimisation or broad issues like violence reduction.

A truly smart city will be one where data, devices and services are melded together to deliver services and improve living standards in a cost effective manner. It can’t be done ad hoc, though. When cities are the customers, policy has to come before technology.

Expect more federal preemption of local wireless site reviews

by Steve Blum • , , ,

There’s no partisan bickering in Washington over locating cell sites. The great divide is between federal and local governments. After making the obligatory nods toward local communities, top aides to all five FCC commissioners agreed that clearing the path for the millions of new cell sites that 5G networks will require is a top priority. They told the audience at the CTIA’s trade show in Las Vegas yesterday that in order to make 5G work, the cost of constructing cell sites, particularly the time and money required to get permit approval from cities and counties, has to come down.

Limits on access to the public right of way by local governments have to be trimmed back or eliminated completely, restrictions on locations need to go and lengthy permit approval processes have to be shortened, according to one member of the panel or another.

It was an indirect, but unanimous, endorsement of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement earlier in the day. Calling 5G networks “a revolution”, he said…

The nature of 5G technology doesn’t just mean more antenna sites, it also means that without such sites the benefits of 5G may be sharply diminished. In the pre-5G world, fending off sites from the immediate neighborhood didn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the advantages of obtaining service from a distant cell site. With the anticipated 5G architecture, that would appear to be less feasible, perhaps much less feasible.

The enemy, in Wheeler’s view, is “nimbyism and the recalcitrance of local authorities”.

There’s a grain of truth in that. There are enough examples of irrational, scorched earth opposition to wireless broadband expansion to fill a book, just in California. But the FCC’s track record, under Wheeler and previous chairs, is one of adopting blanket rules that squash responsible use of local discretion by way of targeting the extreme cases. Quibbling over details aside, it’s clear that he’ll have the full support of republican commissioners, as well as his fellow democrats, when he moves ahead with further federal preemption of local authority over cell site deployment.

FCC chair Wheeler says fiber companies can’t hold 5G hostage

by Steve Blum • , , , ,


Backhaul is critical to development of next generation mobile networks, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in Las Vegas this morning, promising the commission will ensure “that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold 5G hostage”.

It doesn’t look like the Federal Communications Commission will be taking up pricing and access regulations for middle mile backhaul in September, though. In what could be his final CTIA keynote as FCC chair, Wheeler promised new rules, but “before the end of this year” and not before the end of the month. Might be this month, but that didn’t seem to be the direction that Wheeler is leaning.

Wheeler was vague about the timing of new privacy rules but referred to them as “imperative”. Privacy, though, wasn’t on his critical path for deployment of 5G wireless networks over the next decade. Wheeler pointed to three issues – backhaul, spectrum and local restrictions on cell sites – as the three biggest policy bottlenecks that must be overcome. He didn’t exactly declare war on “nimbyism and the recalcitrance of local authorities” but he didn’t have kind words in that regard either.

The FCC’s attempt to clear 120 MHz of television spectrum and re-use it for mobile broadband will be scaled back to 114 MHz and a new reverse auction will be launched next week, Wheeler said. Television stations wanted, in aggregate, $88 billion to give up 120 MHz, but wireless companies were only willing to pay $23 billion. The hope is that cutting back on the bandwidth will bring the two sides closer together.

New rules for cable set top boxes, which is the third major policy decision in the FCC’s hopper, weren’t mentioned. The agenda for this month’s commission meeting will be released tomorrow. We’ll find out then if any of those three issues – backhaul pricing (business data services in FCC-speak), privacy and set top boxes – will be decided soon.

Sparse CTIA show looks at dense cell networks

by Steve Blum • , , ,

CTIA – the trade group formerly known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association – is holding its last show in Las Vegas this week. Next year, it’s combining with the GSM Association to produce a new show in San Francisco. GSMA is the organiser of the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, which is the go-to conference for the mobile industry.

The event will shift to the second week after Labor Day, which presumably will get it out from under Apple’s shadow – as in the past, CEO Tim Cook’s fall announcements, which are usually mobile-focused, will happen right smack in the middle of CTIA’s opening keynote session. Which is just as well – the line up of speakers is sadly diminished from years gone by, when the top executives from U.S. mobile carriers were regularly featured. This year, it’s strictly second bananas on the keynote stage.

FCC luminaries aside, the policy focus is shining on cities. Several panel sessions will be devoted to figuring out how to work with communities, or at least get them to go along with plans to deploy dense 5G networks in the coming decade. A lot of the talk will center on the smart city concept, which should involve creating layers of virtual, open source data-driven infrastructure, but too often is just about repackaging existing products and services for the municipal market. Even so, I’m hoping to find new applications and architectures.

The Internet of Things is also getting a lot of attention, although it seems to be as much, if not more, more from parallel events than from the main CTIA show. On Tuesday, I’ll be going to the Telit IoT Innovation conference, which should be a good, general update on the state of IoT, if they’ve kept the information to sales pitch ratio at a manageable level.

Whose network is the network now?

by Steve Blum • , , ,

No network to see here. Move along.

One of the six requests for another appellate court review of the Federal Communications Commission decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service came from the mobile industry’s lobbying front, CTIA. It objects to being under the same regulatory umbrella as plain old telephone service, as do some of the other appellants.

CTIA’s argument hinges on what the definition of public switched network really is – under federal law, mobile broadband can only be regulated as a common carrier service when connected to it. The FCC said, and the first appeals court agreed, that it means the Internet as much as it does the plain old telephone network. Not so, says CTIA, public switched network refers only to the old 10-digit dial up voice network.

Then it starts to get weird.

A tablet, for example, isn’t connected to the public switched network because you can’t make a telephone call on it. Well you can, argues CTIA, but only if you download an app, but that tablet can otherwise connect to the rest of the Internet automatically.

Yeah. Because someone, somewhere along the line installed an app – a browser – first.

The next, and deepest, rhetorical rabbit hole CTIA jumps into is the argument, in effect, that because you can’t dial into a website or a thermostat using plain old telephone service, the Internet isn’t on the network. Except that based on CTIA’s numbers – “billions of IP-enabled devices” – it’s the phones that aren’t on the network. It’s hundreds of millions of telephones versus billions – tens of billions – of Internet-enabled devices.

The network in question used to be called the public switched telephone network. When congress dropped the word “telephone” out of it, it stopped being about dialling friends on the kitchen phone, and started being about ubiquitous networking, via any technology. Whether it’s voice or data, it’s all one, big network now.

Here are the six petitions asking the entire D.C. appeals court to rehear challenges to FCC’s broadband common carrier/title II decision:

Alamo Broadband
CTIA – mobile industry association
NCTA – cable industry association
USTA – landline industry association

Datawind squeezes costs out of bandwidth for developing markets

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

$80 for a tablet with a year of mobile Internet service included is a powerful selling proposition, particularly in the developing markets that Datawind is targeting. The Canadian company showed its newest tablet – priced at $38 with WiFi connectivity only – at the Showstoppers event at the CTIA show in Las Vegas last month.

Datawind has solved two tough problems: making a cheap and functional tablet and bundling it with even cheaper mobile service in a useful way.

The 7-inch tablet runs Android on a 1.3 GHz dual core processor that costs $3.50. Other components are comparable, resulting in a device that has twice the processing power and memory as the first iPad, according to the company. Plans are to keep squeezing out costs, with a projected price point of $20 next year.

The real secret sauce, though, is a custom-built browser that connects to Datawind’s servers, which compress the bandwidth used down to a relative trickle and also serve out ads that help subsidise data connections in developing countries. That’s what allows the company to include a year’s worth of data service for $42 more. “We do the heavy lifting on the back end”, said Suneet Tuli, Datawind’s CEO.

There are obvious trade offs in performance, but users aren’t restricted to Datawind’s network. Other browsers run fine, and can be used when more robust or inexpensive connectivity is available.

Africa and India – where Tuli says they’ve been the top selling manufacturer since last year – are Datawind’s primary markets, although it also sells products in the developed world too.c

Hope still flickers for thoughtful Internet policy at the FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

There might yet be an intellectual debate at the FCC about network neutrality. A debate on facts and philosophy, rather than a negotiation for spoils or a partisan punch up. Four commissioners – the entire FCC minus chair Tom Wheeler who did a solo turn earlier – had an hour-long conversation with new CTIA head (and former FCC commissioner) Meredith Baker at a standing room only session at the CTIA show in Las Vegas last week.

When the talk turned to the FCC’s current net neutrality proceeding, commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel put Exhibit A for an open Internet on the table: the new virtual economy that’s been built, starting in the U.S., on a ubiquitous network that runs without centralised control, either by government or industry. “Our Internet economy is the model for the world”, she said. But as control of the Internet, particularly the last mile, becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of large incumbent companies, government regulation is a necessary counterweight.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, on the other hand, characterised net neutrality as “a solution in search of a problem”, and particularly so in the U.S. mobile industry, where there is comparatively robust competition and a history of light regulation, and billions of dollars of investment as a result.

Rosenworcel seems to lean toward stricter, or at least more specific, net neutrality rules than the draft floated a couple of months ago by Wheeler. Pai doesn’t want any at all. They’re both right on the facts and they both start with the facts and reason the problem through from there. So long as the conversation continues on that basis, there’s still hope for a rational, rather than political, outcome.

It’s not about the watch, it’s about Apple diving into health care

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

When Tim Cook unveiled the Apple Watch on Tuesday, and launched into a rapturous description of the digital crown – the old school winding wheel on the side that’s redesigned into a user interface – the first thing I thought was “they made the damn watch for right-handed people”. Any southpaw old enough to remember having to wind a watch every day – yes, me – remembers having to unstrap it and shift hands first. The crown is on the right side, which is the wrong side if you’re a lefty.

Well, not exactly. The display can be flipped around so you can wear the watch on your right hand with the crown pointing left, albeit sub-optimally positioned lower down. But enough grumpiness.

The big take away for me isn’t the design or functionality. It’s Apple’s determination that smart watches are about health and fitness. The Apple Watch will display text messages and otherwise serve as an iPhone extension, but the killer app is health and fitness, with Apple forming a high caliber development team around it.

Apple didn’t make the first MP3 player or the first smart phone or the first tablet. But it figured out what those devices were good for and how to build supporting platforms and content to make them useful and attractive to consumers. That track record is reason enough to presume that Apple has done the same for smart watches, and could do as well for other wearable categories.

Health, particularly, has been a tough sector for technology companies to penetrate. Microsoft has been trying to run an online medical record platform for years, with little success. Stringent legal requirements and the threat of further regulation has been a stumbling block for nimble startups. Apple has the market strength, development talent and raw resources to succeed, though. It’s not a done deal – an Apple Watch and health platform would be the first post-Jobs attempt at a category breakout – but that’s the way to bet.

CTIA successfully reboots its mobile industry trade show

by Steve Blum • , ,

It’s still a work in progress, but the reengineered CTIA wireless trade show looks like it’s relevant enough to mobile industry execs to keep drawing them to Las Vegas. The new show tries to blend content from the CTIA’s traditional big springtime convention and MobileCon, its fall technology conference (or content or apps or whatever – usefully, it never stagnated), and consolidate the show floors.

The exhibits were workmanlike and generated a fair amount of traffic, at least on the first day (the only full day I was there). The keynote sessions offered an opportunity to take the measure of industry execs, including Meredith Attwell Baker, the new president of CTIA. But the quality of the keynote presentations was uneven, a problem shared by the conference program.

The panel discussion with FCC commissioners was excellent, but some of the others were pure sales pitches. Not unusually so, though. Like many trade shows, CTIA has reached the point where the aftermarket – the online audience for live streamed and archived speeches and conference sessions – is more important to corporate marketers than the actual attendees.

My one big complaint is that exhibit halls are bad places to put presentations and panel discussions. I understand why trade show organisers do it – they want to generate traffic for both exhibitors and speakers – but it’s distracting and dissipates attention. The best thing about the old MobileCon show was a well organised conference program, and the occasionally claustrophobic sessions only added to the energy.

But the new CTIA show – branded Super Mobility Week – and its escort of smaller events, like the Competitive Carriers Association conference, does bring people to town, and that is the point of holding conventions. The greatest value is in the chance conversations, one-on-one meetings and corporate parties that result, and in that regard this week’s show delivered.