4G and apps dominate CTIA

CTIA 2009CTIA 2009 was a much smaller show than last year, which was a big talking point at the show.  Despite the reduction in size, the show had two big stories to tell: 4G and apps.

The 4G story began with Verizon CEO Seidenberg’s keynote, where he mentioned Verizon’s plans to roll out Long Term Evolution (LTE), a 4G technology, by year end in select markets.  On the show floor, those three letters took on a much greater meaning, and were everywhere.  At LG’s booth, I saw high quality HD video streaming over LTE connections that were four times faster than peak cable broadband.

For marketers, LTE is going to make things very, very interesting. 
One big trend I also saw was telecommunications equipment providers offering network operators advertising solutions.  One such solution was a cross-media behavioral targeting solution at Alcatel-Lucent’s booth.  With 4G connections able to deliver high quality HD video, it’s reasonable to expect that homes will have most media, from TV to mobile to Internet, all going through one network.  If that network is tailoring content to user interests and able to target advertising accordingly, it gives a much more relevant and targeted advertising experience across media.

Another neat trend in line with the importance of LTE was the appearance of OLED screens on Samsung handsets.  One device in particular enabled HD quality video on the mobile phone.  With 4G speeds, HD video streaming to mobile handsets becomes a reality.  Over at one of the Chinese handset booths, there were two models of mobile phones featuring projection technology, which will one day have incredible ramifications beyond even just video, as the MIT “sixth sense” project aptly demonstrates.

Regarding the story of apps, CTIA saw the launch of the BlackBerry App World, RIM’s on-device application marketplace.  Despite the highly anticipated announcement, most of the sentiment seemed to be disappointment or concern over the design of the devices versus the promise of the marketplace.  One very good point raised was the limited on-device memory available to BlackBerry devices as compared to iPhones, which limits the space to add on non-essential apps.  Personally, I think this is still a large step in the right direction, and BlackBerry could always release an update at a later point in time that allows apps to be stored on removable storage, as Nintendo did to combat similar concerns with the Wii.

More than just BlackBerry, most of the large booths were dedicated less to the phone hardware, and made the application partners the main attraction.  This was true at RIM’s booth, at the Windows Mobile booth, and even Nokia’s booth.  The ironic part was that as a point of differentiation, this wasn’t particularly effective – in several cases application developers had a representative at each booth.  It was reminiscent of Netflix at CES – just as Netflix appeared on every home entertainment system regardless of manufacturer, in several cases applications will be appearing on everything from iPhones to Windows Mobile to BlackBerries.  Application marketplaces are delivering the scale to drive 3rd party initiated ubiquity.

Both these stories were very exciting.  The show may have fallen short of an extravaganza, but mobile technology is trending toward something nothing less than revolutionary.  For those that already consider the mobile phone to have radically altered their lives – they ain’t seen nothing yet.