The CTIA Wireless Association’s annual Las Vegas mobile-centric show has wrapped up for this year, and a few key trends emerged. We wanted to bring you some of the high points from the show that shed light on what’s hot now as well as what’s on the horizon in mobile in the near near future.
Overall, the trend of convergence between mobile devices and the internet not only continues, but is accelerating. We saw lots of shiny new phones of course, but we’re also hearing a lot more about environments like the car becoming increasingly connected. Tablets and smartbooks add to the array of devices we’ll need data plans for, and cell carriers will need to begin addressing a heterogeny of devices and platforms that single consumers need to get connected. Read on for some of the bigger trends the wireless industry is concerning itself with today and down the next few years of the mobile roadmap.
4G Next-Generation Wireless Networks
As some carriers continue to quibble over who has the best 3G coverage, a whole new generation of wireless networks is already being rolled out. The gains in terms of data speed and capacity stand to be significant — imagine having the broadband speeds you’re used to at home but on your phone or portable wireless hotspot. Sprint will be the first to market with its 4G WiMAX network. The network is rolled out in 27 major metropolitan areas of the U.S. already, with at least 15 more cities to get coverage before year’s end.
At CTIA Sprint announced the HTC EVO 4G (pictured above), which will be the first commercially available handset to take advantage of the WiMAX network. Notable for that alone, the phone is also a veritable smorgasboard of high-tech specs that have phone nerds like me marking our calendars for this summer when the device will launch.
Verizon and AT&T are backing a 4G network based on a different standard, dubbed Long Term Evolution (LTE), but neither the network itself nor the devices that will be able to take advantage of it are expected to be ready before mid-2011. Still, both Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and partner Clearwire’s CEO Bill Morrow said that consumers shouldn’t expect to see a format war situation emerging because the WiMAX network architecture would allow them to also incorporate LTE down the road when it becomes available.
There was without a doubt a singular winner in terms of smartphone platforms at this year’s CTIA, which may as well have been dubbed CTIAndroid. In addition to the HTC EVO 4G we mentioned above, four other significant Android phones were announced. The Samsung Galaxy S has one of the sharpest yet least annoyingly reflective screens we’ve ever seen, in addition to lots of power under the hood. The Motorola i1 is the first push-to-talk phone running Android, and is reportedly as rugged and durable as users of Sprint’s Nextel network have come to expect from PTT phone offerings without looking like a proverbial brick.
The Dell Aero will be Dell’s first foray into the U.S. smartphone market, and the second Android handset to arrive on AT&T’s network. The Kyocera Zio M6000 is a slick-looking phone with a high-resolution 800 x 480 display, but sacrifices some power in the components in order to be able to offer what will be one of the cheapest Android offerings on the market: between $169 and $216 before subsidy. It’s a significant play to appeal to the more budget-conscious segment of the market while still providing a sophisticated smartphone OS on board.
Tablets too were out in force with Android under the hood. We had a chance to see some pretty impressive demos of prototype tablets powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 platform, featuring full Flash support and offering a significant alternative to Apple’s iPad.
Mobile Video Explosion
Along with the advent of 4G networks, mobile video becomes a more viable proposition and a more pleasant experience for the consumer. Cisco’s CTO Padmasree Warrior gave a keynote address in which she conveyed the perhaps astonishing statistic that current trends show 91% of all internet traffic will be video content by 2013. With video becoming such a dominant force driving internet usage, and a perfect storm of fast networks and smart devices that can handle it, video will likewise be a significant driver of mobile data usage as well — occupying an estimated 66% of mobile traffic by 2013, according to Cisco.
Handheld news and reviews site Brighthand produced its first Mobile Film Festival at CTIA, showcasing the best and most creative video content made specifically for cell phones. Much like web series have become an important cultural development in online video content, mobile films too stand to see significant uptick over the coming years as filmmakers tailor high quality short-form video specifically for the new generation of smartphone-wielding consumers.
The Internet of Things
Faster 4G networks and smarter mobile devices won’t just be connecting people to people and people to content, either — a significant area of growth for the wireless sector is going to be in connected devices. The Cisco CTO shared another eye-popping statistic in her keynote: by the end of 2010 we expect to see 35 billion devices connected to the network; by 2013 that number is expected to climb to almost a trillion. That includes wireless RFID chips, network-connected sensors, and many other forms of connected devices beyond phones and laptops — and increasingly, those devices will be talking directly to each other.
In combination with 4G, adding network connectivity to a wide range of devices has profound implications for exploding innovation in sectors like health care and smart energy. Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse described a scenario in which an ambulance en route to the hospital could be sending back video feeds and vital information about a patient’s condition to an ER doctor who could then have a fairly clear evaluation of that patient before they even arrive. Remote medicine too could be revolutionized by mobile hotspots in the field and sophisticated diagnostic applications running on smartphones.
With smart energy, imagine a hybrid vehicle that could monitor the network in order to charge itself during non-peak hours, or being able to run an app on your phone that could tell you how much energy you’d save by turning off specific lights or reducing the usage of certain appliances.
Other verticals like education, security, law enforcement, and retail stand to benefit from fast 4G networks and the internet of things as well. United States CTO Aneesh Chopra spoke about the urgent need for innovation in terms of applications that will take the most advantage of the greater speeds and bandwidth afforded by 4G networks, and related that the students of today will be tomorrow’s innovators of mobile use cases we can’t even quite imagine yet.[img credit for “Internet of Things”: < a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lynetter/161065336/" target="_blank">Lynetter]
Tags: 4G, android, cisco, Clearwire, CTIA, CTIA 2010, HTC EVO 4G, ipad, Kyocera, LTE, Mobile 2.0, Motorola, Nextel, NVIDIA, push-to-talk, samsung, samsung galaxy s, sprint, tablets, Tegra 2, trends, video, WiMax