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3/28/2008
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CTIA Wireless: An Industry In Transformation Gathers In Vegas

Look for a wave of new devices and services when the wireless industry gathers for a major industry conference.

When the mobile and wireless industry assembles for its major annual confab next week in Las Vegas, it will be with a mixture of elation and anxiety. Rarely has an industry been transformed so swiftly, and with so many competing forces, than the U.S. wireless business since the last CTIA Wireless convention, in March 2007.

A brief outline of the changes in the industry would start with last June's release of the iPhone, which has transformed perceptions of what a mobile device is capable of for both consumers and vendors.

Earlier this month Apple announced the launch of the software development kit for the popular mobile Internet device. Meanwhile, the emergence of new open source mobile platforms led by Android, from Google, as well as corresponding moves by big U.S. wireless carriers (in particular Verizon Wireless) to open their networks to independent devices and applications, is leading many observers to speak of a new era in the wireless industry in this country.

Add to that the conclusion of the FCC's 700 MHz auction, which promises to finally lead to the establishment of an open-access wireless broadband network in this country, and you've got an industry undergoing its biggest transformation since 1968, when the FCC increased the available frequencies for wireless telecommunications, opening the way for the modern cell-phone industry.

Meanwhile, some analysts are saying that the spectacular growth in global handset sales over the last few years will slow, if not halt, in 2008. IMS Research predicts that worldwide shipments of new mobile phones will grow to 1.2 billion in 2008, an increase of 5.7% over 2007. Cell phone sales have been growing at double-digit rates for the last several years. The slowdown will be caused by several factors, the research firm says, including a likely U.S. recession and a decline in replacement handset sales in nearly saturated markets like the United States and Western Europe.

Against that turbulent and promising backdrop, here's what to look for this week in Sin City:

  • An ambitious slate of new devices from Asian handset makers like Samsung, HTC, and UTStarcom, several of which were unveiled last month at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Further details from Sprint Nextel on its "Xohm" WiMax network build-out, now rumored to be once again moving forward in concert with well-funded startup Clearwire (Cisco Systems is also saying it will release "significant WiMax news" at CTIA).

  • Greater clarity on the future of Motorola, which this week said it will split itself into two divisions, one for consumer devices and one for broadband and enterprise mobility systems.

  • A new mobile strategy from Yahoo, which is still considering a takeover offer from Microsoft.

  • Plus a host of new mobile applications from small providers like Nuance Communications, which just signed a global licensing agreement for voice-based services with Samsung.

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