LAS VEGAS — About 30,000 attendees sweltered in Las Vegas for the CTIA Super Mobility show this past week. Attendance was flat from last year, but the exhibit floor and meeting rooms bustled. The energy of the show focused on M2M and Internet of Things (IoT). In past years, the connected vehicle was a highlight, but not so this year. Wearable technology was scant. Those looking for the big product introductions of the past were disappointed. However, CTIA’s keynote speakers added focus and vision into the show, reminding us of the drive and vigor that built the industry.
In the past, the network operators (we once called them carriers) and device manufacturers owned the CTIA show, where they made their biggest product reveals. This year, AT&T had a flurry of announcements, including a partnership with car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover North America. AT&T will supply connectivity to the cars for features such as Wi-Fi hotspots, connected navigation and a suite of apps. Customers will be able to share wireless data between phones, tablets and vehicles on its Mobile Share Value plan for an additional 10 dollars per month access fee. AT&T previously signed agreements with Audi, BMW, GM, Ford, Tesla, Nissan, Volvo and Subaru.
AT&T and Telogis announced a collaboration to offer solutions for companies with mobile workforces, a combination of AT&T’s network and Telogis’ telematics, compliance and navigation fleet solutions. AT&T was showing off ZTE Mobley, AT&T’s first plug-in vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot, which has just appeared in stores. Smaller announcements from AT&T included the formation of a dedicated smart city organization and a personal security app that provides live, OnStar-type professional monitoring (video and audio).
Verizon unveiled Go90, a streaming-video, social media service that works across carriers. Go90 is a free, ad-based service accessed only on a mobile phone and focused on short clips, viral videos and a social element, with crowdsourced recommendations and the ability to join groups. Go90 is targeted at Millennials, people younger than 30 years old. Although this seems like a minor announcement, obtaining the loyalty of Millennials and Generation Z (those still in their teens) is critical. With two-thirds of Millennials considering smartphones as their most important device for video, the strategy behind Go90 makes sense.
New Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure is never boring and used his time at the podium to continue trash- talking the competition. With cocky confidence, he pronounced that under his leadership, Sprint will enjoy “one of the biggest turnarounds in telecom history.” In July, Claure used Twitter to declare T-Mobile’s aggressive “uncarrrier” promotion to be “bullshit and a fake show.” He continued his rant at CTIA. “We spent the first year cutting AT&T or Verizon’s bills in half, which was fun. We’ve moved on today to offering all the DirecTV customers the choice to not be stuck with AT&T.”
One of the most pressing industry issues is spectrum. With wireless data forecast to grow ten-fold by the end of 2020, the industry is concerned that the 2016 spectrum auction will not be sufficient. Keynotes appealed for more spectrum to enable the U.S. to lead in 5G, just as it led in 4G. U.S. company-run operating systems are currently on nine out of ten smartphones, worldwide. FCC Chief Tom Wheeler was at CTIA to give assurances that the spectrum auction slated for March 2016 will be successful and occur as scheduled. He countered CTIA’s CEO Meredith Baker’s assertion that the FCC has no added plans beyond this auction for freeing up spectrum.
Location Players, M2M, IoT
TeleCommunication Systems (TCS), a stalwart of location-based services, beefed up its indoor location capabilities with the purchase of Loctronix. The platform, Sensorvision, aggregates and integrates location-positioning technologies, like Bluetooth, beacons and Wi-Fi, as well as content, such as mapping. Sensorvision is currently in beta testing and is aimed at wireless operators. With more stringent rules for 911, including indoor location requirements, TCS is positioned for both public safety and commercial needs. What’s next? In five years, Michael Mathews of TCS predicts, “We’ll be talking about the huge amount of information available from the road and the great impact on apps, including vehicles that are informing other cars of their actions, such as when they initiate traction control or start windshield wipers.”
u-blox, the maker of wireless and positioning modules and chips, announced a portfolio of new LTE low data rate cellular modules for IoT and M2M applications in the industrial and automotive markets. The portfolio consists of multi-mode, multi carrier and of LTE only modules specific for large North American carriers. u-blox expects LTE Cat. 1 technology to become the future norm for M2M applications. And when asked about long-term success, Sven Etzold of u-box says, “The challenge for our industry is picking the right partners and being part of successful consortia. We need to partner with the right network operators and play with sensors’ companies.”
Inmarsat unveiled its new machine-to-machine (M2M) and its IoT strategy, the “Internet of Everywhere.” The company is increasing use of VARs and OEMs to enable solutions that will provide more visibility and control of mobile assets throughout the world. “We are empowering existing and prospective VAR partners to offer unparalleled worldwide connectivity to their M2M and IoT customers through a single network and a single SIM,” said David Wigglesworth of Inmarsat. The company’s dedicated M2M services are IsatData Pro, a low-data-rate messaging service, and BGAN M2M, a two-way IP data service for monitoring and control of assets that require higher bandwidth capabilities.
Geotab, with one of the exhibit floor’s most crowded booths, showcased the development platform of a small form-factor GPS tracking device. The Geotab GO7 device plugs directly into a vehicle’s OBDII port. Developers create applications that are available on the Geotab Marketplace. The booth was crammed with developers who offer M2M and IoT solutions.
Microsoft’s Start-Up Alley contained interesting ventures from the Microsoft Accelerator. One young company, Parknav, offered an app for finding parking spaces based on predictive modeling, and not sensors. Users are guided to street blocks with the highest probability of available parking spaces. The app uses a number of sources, including number of parking spaces, traffic flow and undisclosed data. Parknav enables searches for free, paid and permit parking in 30 cities in Germany and a few cities in the U.S.
On a charitable note, Jimmy Whales of Wikipedia fame was at CTIA to promote his phone business, a Sprint-based MVNO cellular service. Like Wikipedia, The People’s Operator (TPO) is not a profit driven enterprise. Ten percent of a subscriber’s monthly bill goes to a charity of her choosing, and 25 percent of the company’s profits are donated to non-profits. In talking about Wikipedia, Whales cited China’s current ban of the website. Wikipedia has recently made changes to its website that make it impossible for censors to ban specific Wikipedia pages, although the entire site can be blocked, as it currently is in China.
I have parting advice for the organizers of CTIA. This year’s show was disrupted by competing events that included the iPhone 6 announcement in Cupertino. Shame on Apple, who is a member of the CTIA board. Also, CTIA had organized a virtual co-conferencing with Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA), one of the largest trade shows for consumer electronics and home appliances. The IFA event was held in Berlin the prior week and stole attention from CTIA. It isn’t all about location. Timing matters.