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MY THOUGHTS ON CTIA 2016


CTIA 2016 is in the books. And with it ends another chapter of a show that has evolved many times over the years. Next year begins a new chapter as GSMA will be partnering with CTIA for a combined show to be held in San Francisco. For those who don’t know, GSMA is the driving force behind the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona each spring. Therefore we can expect the “GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas, in partnership with CTIA” on September 12-14, 2017 in San Francisco to be quite an event, with likely a more international flavor as well.

But before we say goodbye to Las Vegas and CTIA 2016, it’s useful to pause and reflect this year’s show. By now I’m sure you’ve read articles, blogs, “top 5 lists”, etc., covering the show’s major topics. So rather than repeat those, in this blog I’ll touch my reflections on this year’s show - again from the perspective of someone who has been in the industry a very long time.

5G Reminds Me Of The Early Days of PCS

Uncertainty about services. Uncertainty about spectrum. Uncertainty about standards. All that’s really certain is that everyone wants to be a part of it. Sound familiar? While listening to the 5G discussions at this year’s show I was taken back to when I first got into wireless in 1991. In those days the FCC had just issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to create a new thing called Personal Communications Services (PCS) in the US. That was also the first time spectrum auctions were introduced, leading to the comment “leave it to the government to figure out how to make money out of thin air!” But as I look back at those days, it really was a seminal time in the industry. A few years later, by the mid 90’s, we would evolve from having an oligopoly of 2 cellular franchise carriers in each city in the 850MHz band, to 6 or 7 new competitors in higher spectrum bands. The industry would never be the same.

So what’s to be learned from that PCS experience that can help us with 5G? I would say the number one thing is to watch the results of the early trials and see what things the customers really want. That will drive everything else. I’ll never forget a PCS focus group I sat in on in 1991 where a young mom said “I just need a cellular phone in my purse”. And through all the spectrum auctions, standards wars, mergers and consolidations, that is essentially what PCS became. All major US Carriers are planning their own versions of 5G trials next year and we should watch those results carefully.

Security for the IoT

As I listened to the promise of IoT, with everything from cars to Coke boxes being controlled by M2M communications, I began to think about all the computer hacking that is occurring in the world. Without getting too political, it seems to me that we’re in a cyber war with hostile countries right now and unfortunately the bad guys seem to be one step ahead of the good guys. Are US consumers really going to be comfortable enough with our cyber security to trust handing over this much control of their lives to the internet?

There were a couple of mentions of security at the show. In his keynote, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler mentioned the FCC goal of ensuring security and privacy as key elements within the 5G architecture to support IoT and new services. There was also some booth activity on IoT security. But, it was not a key focus area of the show.

I don’t have the answer to the question I posed above, but I did have a very interesting discussion on this topic with Jaimeson Bilodeau of Artiza Networks. Jaimeson is an American who has lived in Japan for many years. He described Japanese as being very security conscious, to the point that technical solutions may roll out later in Japan than in some other places in the world to ensure they are secure. I’ve never been to Japan, but his point reinforced the thought already percolating in my head that we’re not paying enough attention to the security aspect of IoT in the United States. I expect this topic to grow in importance in the very near future, and it could even gate the rollout of some IoT capabilities.

Delivering mobile video, with zero latency!

In response to my pre-CTIA blog, I received the following from Carol Felton of I-Blades.

“I was just reading Bill's latest blog, ‘Are you Ready for Some CTIA?’ and he noted that one of the things he's interested in talking about at CTIA is ‘What's ahead for Mobile video?’ Our CEO Jorge Fernandes would like the opportunity to set up a brief meeting … to share his thoughts on the subject.”

So as my last meeting of the show on Friday morning, I met with Jorge at the I-Blades booth. As I learned more about their Smart Case technology, I got a big smile on my face. While others are focusing on improving downloading speeds and streaming video technology, I-Blades is increasing the storage and play back capabilities of the device itself though the attachment of their proprietary blade technology to the back of the carrying case. So, for example, as a parent you can download a ton of stuff to your Smart Case and when your child gets cranky in the car you can hand them the device and turn on “Mary Poppins.” Now, I’m not endorsing the I-Blade technology one way or the other, but I’m always impressed with the innovation in our industry and those who come up with different ways to help solve the same problem. I thought it deserved a mention in this blog.

After hours

Finally, it wouldn’t be CTIA without some time spent in the local watering holes. While at Otto’s in St Mark Square I learned from my Scottish friend Hamish Caldwell that the proper way to enjoy a “wee dram” of single malt scotch is served neat with just a drop or two of water to open it up. I tried it, and it worked! Of course being schooled in the scientific method, I repeated the “experiment” again to ensure the same result. LOL. But don’t take my word for it! I encourage you to try your own “experiments”. And if you see me in San Francisco next year maybe we can compare notes.

Bill Mayberry
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