2007 CTIA Post-Mortem

It was nice being back in Orlando, the convention city where taxi drivers charge more to drive you around than anywhere else and complain that there is too much business. The show this year was busy but did not have the same exuberance as the last two shows. Maybe the exuberance was all expended in Barcelona a few weeks earlier at 3GSM, which was jam-packed with big announcements.

Maybe it’s just my new angle from looking at things, but the big themes were as expected mobile television and content in general combined with advertising. To be honest, what else is there? Plain old voice or the next esoteric wireless abbreviation technology does not really excite that much after all. Consumers are completely technology agnostic but want this device to eliminate the last bit of white space from their lives – may it be through increased efficiency or through entertainment. Just go into a meeting five minutes early and you will see half of the people checking their email and the other half either listening to music on their device or playing a game. Someone will satisfy this almost pathological need and either it is going to be the carrier or a third-party content provider. The wireless carrier is better positioned to exploit this opportunity than anybody else due to their existing business relationship, established billing system and the legal hurdles around the sharing of customer information.

Some interesting observations:

Verizon Wireless – The well-oiled machine is continuing to run on all cylinders and now with television. The two handset models that were given to selected journalists and analysts worked well. Picture quality was good, despite some forgivable coverage glitches here and there. The LG VX 9400 has very impressive battery life significantly in excess of the four hours I was told. On the other hand, this device is another proof that Korean usage patterns are not very different to US usage patters. The device was originally launched in Korea as a DMB (another mobile television standard) phone and consumers were logging the same complaints as Americans that you cannot dial a number without swiveling the screen. Gee, really Sherlock? The device makes it very easy to channel surf, which consumers and Verizon Wireless who wants to sell the subscription service delights. The flip side is that it might negatively impact advertising viewing, which is one of the revenue streams for MediaFlo. It’s early and we’ll see how that is going.
Has anyone realized during the changing of the guard at Verizon Wireless the South Area won big time? Jack Plating, new COO, ran the South Area, Mike Lanman, new CMO, ran the Florida region, Joe Saracino who is now overseeing both advertising and online was in a former life VP of Marketing for the South Area. The pre-existing familiarity of these new key decision makers will ensure that there is nothing falling between the cracks during this period of change.
Sprint – Finally an iconic device for Sprint. Combined with the new ad agency that was announced after the show, the Upstage should give Sprint some nice buzz and pick-up. Some of the critical reviews of the device comparing it to a Nano are quite unfair because they are focusing on the Nano’s strength while completely ignoring that the Nano is an abysmal mobile phone. I cannot tell you how hard it is to get decent coverage with the Nano. I’ve given up by now. After the umpteenth delay, the cable JV should go live pretty soon now too since they picked Pivot as a brand name – let’s hope they will not get dizzy from all the pivoting, especially since the FCC put a lot tighter restrictions of customer information sharing between JV partners.
AT&T – The two big news items at the show were mobile banking and mobile video sharing. I can see the value of checking your checking account balance on the phone, but this can only be the first step of turning your mobile device into a payment system – anything else is falling way short of what it should become. Also, while I am sure that there are going to be many uplifting experiences to be shared with Video Share, I can see already some of the less than savory headlines. Just imagine the average American college campus with two male friends sharing their sexual exploits with each other live while the third participant is not even aware that their tender loving moments have become a live show. You know it will happen and you know when the involuntary video star finds out there will be a law suit and someone will make some sleazy comment about “raising the bar.”
What is a bit more concerning is the apparent adjustment issues that Cingular is going through now that it is becoming AT&T. While the preparations have been on-going to structure the company in the AT&T way, the full impact of changing a wide array of business practices is just now hitting home. In addition to new practices, a number of departures of key individuals either switching over to AT&T such as Ralph de la Vega, former COO of Cingular or into retirement such as Ed Reynolds, former President of Network Operations, combined with many effective middle managers leaving the firm, is slowing down internal operations. It remains to be seen how long this internal adjustment process will last and how it will impact customer facing operations and thereby the quarterly numbers. On the positive side, promotions such as Kris Rinne’s to oversee all technology development for the combined AT&T will certainly reap long-term rewards.

On a personal note, it was nice having two Presidents as the opening act to your panel. President George H. Bush and President Bill Clinton ended their keynote right before my 11am panel and I was really impressed with the turnout to our panel. The room was more than two-thirds full which is quite amazing when you consider that we were the last panel standing between the attendees and the airport.