Thoughts from CTIA 2010

I’m currently in Las Vegas attending CTIA Wireless 2010. I’m blogging for my company’s corporate blog but wanted to post my write-ups here as well!

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Like any trade event there are key trends that peculate across presentations, demonstrations and keynotes.  Fortunately, and unlike Mobile World Congress, CTIA makes its keynotes open to even the lowliest of badge holder. Great news for those looking to pick up on these trends and listen to the challenges facing the mobile community from the movers and shakers themselves.

The program has been very impressive with presentations from C-level executives from several international mobile carriers. A consistent theme across many of the keynotes has been the call to make more spectrum available to mitigate the pressure being exerted on existing infrastructure by unprecedented data demands. This is something we’ve identified as a threat on several occasions.

Ralph de la Vega, CEO and President of AT&T’s Mobility & Consumer Markets, has previously gone on record to explain the data crunch on the AT&T network.

As the headline keynote speaker on Day One, de la Vega went to great lengths to express the US’s leadership role in mobile broadband.

  • US 3G subscribers account for 18% of the world’s total
  • US HSPA / EV-DO subscribers account for 33% of world’s total
  • One in every five new 3G subscribers is in the US
  • 56% of US subscribers have ‘used’ a mobile device to connect to wifi [note the term ‘used’ not ‘own’]
  • In the US, 80% of wireless capex  is directed toward mobile broadband. In Europe it’s 50%
  • 30% of global LTE investment is out of the US
  • 63 million smartphones will be sold in the US in 2010. 13m in the UK, 25m in China, 20m in Japan and 7m in France
  • AT&T are driving applications on non-smartphone devices
  • By 2014 there will be 84m embedded devices in the US market (ie: netbooks, tablets with embedded module)

De la Vega went on to explain his view of the mobile ecosystem; 1) Advanced networks are deployed, 2) Innovative devices are launched, 3) Apps and content are launched to leverage these devices, 4) This drives consumer data consumption which, in turn, forces the cycle all over again (ie: more networks deployed / upgraded).

Simple, but a very effective explanation.

On the subject of network-crunch, de la Vega cited a Cisco statistic; “3.6 terabytes of data will be passing through mobile networks per month by 2014).” of this, 2/3rds will be video.  Acknowledging the growth in smartphones and the fact that smartphone owners generate x10 more data traffic than non-smartphone owners de la Vega went on to explain how the crunch should be managed.

There wasn’t, he said, a silver bullet. It was instead a blend of increasing available spectrum and finding network efficiencies. (de la Vega has also previously suggested the need to educate users about appropriate data consumption).

Spectrum crisis seems to be the greatest threat to the US mobile data industry right now. The FCC is currently proposing a further 500mhz be freed over the next decade. this, de la Vega suggests is not enough (he cited the need for 800mhz). LTE would deliver added benefit (it’s a more efficient bearer than HSPA). And there is also a need to leverage technologies such as wifi and femotocells to deliver a sustainable model that will drive traffic away from the mobile networks. However, any hand-over must be invisible to the consumer. The network should be selected dependent on their current needs.

Even this, amazingly, de la Vega suggested would not be enough. The ecosystem needs to be more efficient to conserve spectrum. Web and email efficiency can vary enormously, with browsers varying in efficiency (with regards to the data load on the network).

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