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“ARE YOU READY FOR SOME CTIA?”


It’s almost September, which means the return of two highly anticipated things in the United States – Football and CTIA! Ok, maybe CTIA doesn’t have quite the broad appeal of football, but to us wireless folks the annual gathering in Las Vegas is still a pretty big deal.

We are now less than 2 weeks away from the start of the show, so I thought I’d get a conversation started around things we might expect this time around. Staying with a football theme (admittedly a stretch) I’ll start it off with the four things that I’m looking for at CTIA this year.

1) Will a Scrimmage break out between Tower Companies and Carriers?

It’s no secret that there is growing friction between the big tower companies and major carriers and some believe a new tower industry model may result. (For historical context you might be interested in the 2 part blog I wrote on this topic.) Big dollars are at stake and the issues are complex. There are a number of CTIA sessions where both tower company and carrier representatives will be presenting. In the past, these have been mostly informational sharing events. But this year I’m wondering if it might be more, say, “spirited”? CTIA tends to be a place where major announcements are made and policy positions are put forth, so it will be interesting to see if any of that happens. Could there be some shots fired across the bow, or, could we even see a little “scrimmaging” between the parties?

2) Will Google and Facebook open up their Offenses?

Thus far both Google and Facebook have kept low profiles about competing with industry incumbents. The football analogy would be the 1970’s version of the Ohio State offense under Woody Hayes -“3 yards and a cloud of dust”. But both companies are gearing up for strong wireless runs, as I have written about in a previous blog. And I just saw where Google Fiber is now beginning to favor wireless instead of fiber for access into the home. (Click, another piece just fell in place.) Could this year’s CTIA be the coming out party for these two potentially disruptive market participants, or will they decide stay off the radar screen a little bit longer? It will be interesting to see. But I do believe they are coming out soon, when they do they will be ready for a major end run.

3) Will we get any Clarity on the much anticipated 5G Formation?

I’ve written about the 5G confusion in a previous blog. In some recent developments, the two biggest US carriers have staked out different positions. Verizon, along with some industry players, appears to be trying to create a 5G standard by publishing an RF specification and hoping to create a de facto standard. AT&T, who has also brought together industry players, is hoping to accelerate the development of the new standard but within the standards body framework. Already there are those who are predicting a fragmented industry as a result of these and other uncoordinated 5G efforts around the world. Will any of this be clarified at CTIA? That, I don’t know. But I do know this. Major equipment vendors and all others who are betting their futures on 5G will be paying very close attention. Nobody wants to build equipment or develop services for a market that doesn’t develop.

4) Are Small Cells finally more than a Hail Mary?

We’ve been hearing about small cells since the last time the Atlanta Falcons were in the playoffs (2012). And like with my Falcons, the past few years have been disappointing for us true believers. Yes, I’ll admit that I got on the small cell bandwagon a long time ago, simply because they made sense to me. High data speeds, stronger signal needed, closer to the source, equals small cells. And while we’re all familiar with how early small cell deployments were hampered by implementation issues and higher cost than expected, my sense is that the industry is getting its act together on small cells. Aided by a simplified C-RAN architecture as well as a better understanding on the part of municipalities, there are companies making progress on small cell deployment today. In addition, the concept of neutral host small cells is getting more traction which could really improve the deployment picture. Will cooperative initiatives like that be announced this year at CTIA? Again I don’t know. But I do know that the pressure is growing daily on the carriers to deploy small cells. And with even more densification required for the use of future 5G millimeter bands, we’re quickly moving from a “nice to do” to “have to do” situation with small cells. Yes, I know skeptics remain. But I also remember when we used to laugh at people saying “this will be the year of mobile data”. Needless to say, they got the last laugh.

Extra Point: Who will have the best Post-Game Party?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist a throw-back to the days when companies competed to have the best after-hours bashes at CTIA. I do miss those days of seeing top shelf bands and big name entertainers at parties. I know those days are gone…. but if you do happen to hear of something good be sure to let me know! LOL.

But also keep in mind that the Sin City motto may be “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but during CTIA week there are more video-capable mobile devices per square mile than anywhere else in the world! So consider yourself cautioned. You don’t want to end up on You Tube and explaining to your boss that you were simply “networking.”

Pre-Game Commentary

So those are the things on my mind for this year’s show. I encourage you to share your thoughts as I only touched on a few topics. For example, how do you see IoT playing out? Is it another “next year” phenomenon or is it the real deal? Also, what’s next for Mobile Video? Will we see any

Big Announcements at this year’s show? It is, after all, a massive show with people attending from many different perspectives.

I look forward to your comments. Also be advised that I plan to write a post-CTIA blog highlighting the things I “LEARNED” (as Chris Berman of ESPN would say). So if you see me at the show, let’s talk!

Bill Mayberry
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