OPINION

CTIA Wireless 2012: A Show of a Different Color

Would it surprise you if I said the upcoming CTIA Wireless 2012 show will be very different from those in the past? I’ve been going to these wireless shows for more years than I can remember.

Every few years, the show — and in fact the entire industry — changes. This is a great showplace for what is new and what is coming next in the wireless industry — and next month’s show should be no exception.

My Pick of the Week is C Spire, for something interesting it’s doing for its customers and non-customers.

Beyond Apps

Remember about five years ago when there were just a few app booths at CTIA? Today there are more than you can count. That’s because in the last few years, the app market has exploded from a few hundred to several hundred thousand.

As exciting as that is, wireless innovation is moving well beyond the app market. It is beginning to transform other industries as well. This is one of those important moments in time when we see the beginnings of a new and innovative industry taking shape.

As an analyst I have covered many different sectors, and wireless has been one of the most exciting. However this transformation is starting to kick into high gear and the next few years should completely reinvent the wireless industry.

CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent called me and we chatted about next month’s CTIA Wireless 2012 show. He told me about what has changed and what is new, and what we can expect to see at the show.

Opportunity Explosion

The automotive industry is really jumping into the wireless opportunity. Both Ford and Nissan are at this year’s show. That’s right, cars at the wireless show. It’s starting to sound like the Consumer Electronics Show, isn’t it? I expect to see more every year — we are just at the beginning of this new wave of opportunity.

Cars are increasingly adding wireless technology, giving the driver and passenger both information and entertainment. Commercial vehicles can be tracked and managed effortlessly once the fleet is properly equipped.

We all love GPS and navigation technology. Many of these devices also show live traffic and weather. But the next-generation devices offer Internet connectivity and WiFi, so we can surf the Web and even use our smartphones, laptops and tablet computers.

A few short years ago, who would have thought this was even possible?

The mHealth sector is also exploding, with large and small companies showing off breakthrough ideas and technology at the show. They are looking for coverage, partners and investors.

This is a brand new industry model that has to crawl before it can walk — and walk before it can run. Today we are at the very early stages of this exciting opportunity.

I have received many emails and calls from companies wanting to get on my radar: app makers, automotive companies, mHealth firms — and that’s in addition to traditional networks, handset makers, laptop and tablet companies, and so many more.

Some are very new and very small. Others are larger companies expanding into these new areas. Remember, large and successful companies can transform themselves and become leaders in these new segments.

Location-Based Marketing

Alon Atsmon is CEO of iOnRoad in Israel, which has created a driving app similar to what is available on the dashboard of Lexus, Mercedes and Cadillac. No, it is not as powerful, but it is affordable — you clip your smartphone to the dashboard of your car, and it measures the distance to the car in front of you. It also measures and alerts you to fast or slow lane changes.

iOnRoad is looking to talk with executives of wireless carriers in the United States to put its app on wireless phones.

Several years ago, I met Dan Lowden, who was then with Wayport, at a CTIA show. After Wayport was acquired by AT&T, Dan joined Digby as VP. He and CEO David Sidora told me about their company.

It is a mobile commerce company. Listen to this: location-based marketing. It helps retail stores build out their mobile strategies and use e-commerce. So, when customers walk into a store, they can communicate with the store. They get special deals and promotions on the screens of their smartphones. Imagine that.

This is a great idea that helps retail stores use new wireless technology to build their brands and get closer to customers in new and exciting ways. Everyone seems to love it — the customers and the companies.

As soon as customers walk into a store, they are connected. Digby has already worked with many major brands, including Bed Bath and Beyond, Cabela’s, Toys “R” Us, The Home Depot, Wet Seal, Brooks Brothers, Golfsmith, Orvis, Radio Shack, HP and others.

Can you see how the wireless industry can be considered a conduit to help other industries transition to the next generation of marketing? There is a whole new world we are moving into, and that is the exciting part of this year’s show.

I predict industry after industry will take advantage of this wireless opportunity over the next few years. Mix that with the exploding smartphone and app marketplace, and you can see how wireless is rapidly changing and growing in new areas.

So, CTIA may be a completely different show from what it was a few short years ago — but that is true every few years in this fast-changing industry. Don’t blink. You might miss something big.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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