CTIA: De la Vega asks app developers to share the mobile broadband burden
Spectrum and new 4G technologies will only go so far, CTIA chairman says; mobile apps need to be optimized for the mobile network.
The opening round of keynotes at CTIA Wireless today took a decidedly pro-USA term. Donning his CTIA chairman cap AT&T (NYSE:ATT) mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega touted industry’s achievements in mobile broadband, tossing up research study after study that showed the US was leading the world in 4G device and network deployments: US operators are investing 80% of their capex in mobile broadband compared to 50% in Asia-Pac and Europe, an estimated 53 million smartphones will be sold in the US in 2010 compared to 25 million in China and 20 million in Japan, and one-third of total long-term evolution investment is being made in the good-ole USA despite the fact it has one one-seventh of the world’s wireless subscribers.
“In almost every way of looking at it the U.S. is leading the way, but there is not a guarantee it will stay that way,” de la Vega said. He pointed to the rising peak demand for mobile broadband from U.S. operators and how at its current trajectory will far exceed networks’ ability to meet that demand. De la Vega sounded the usual industry calls for more spectrum and more efficient technologies to push up that capacity curve, but, for the first time, he asked application developers and Internet services companies to share the burden of bridging that demand-capacity gap. New spectrum and 4G technologies like long-term evolution will solve only part of the problem, de la Vega said, while an applications market more conscious of the network’s limits, developing services optimized for mobility can do just as much to ease congestion.
Something as simple as sending optimizing video for a phone’s media player before it hits the radio access network or developing more efficient mobile browsing technologies which resize content for a small-screen form factor can cut down on massive volumes of traffic currently flooding U.S. wireless networks, de la Vega said. Operators will shoulder their share, deploying 4G networks and going after new spectrum, but those initiatives can take years, while more nimble developers can begin optimizing their applications now. “This should be a national imperative for all of us in the wireless ecosystem,” de la Vega said.
After de la Vega’s speech concluded CTIA CEO Steve Largent can AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson played out a good-cop-bad-cop routine over regulatory issues facing the wireless industry. Largent effused with praise for the FCC and its chairman Julius Genachowski over their introduction of a national broadband plan with provisions to move hundreds of megahertz of spectrum from broadcasters to operators.
Genachowski took the stage in absentia, describing the details of the FCC’s mobile broadband initiatives in pre-recorded remarks.
But after Genachowski left the screens, Stephenson took the stage—in person—and delivered a keynote largely focused on keeping regulators ff of the industry’s back. Capital flows from investors to wireless companies when they’re free of restricting regulation, Stephenson said. So far the industry has been able to thrive compared to other country’s which face much closer government intervention in their affairs, Stephenson said. That approach is directly responsible for the lead the U.S. has established in mobile broadband, Stephenson added.
Though Stephenson didn’t address the topic directly, he was obviously referring to net neutrality and other efforts by regulators and public advocacy groups to force operators to open their networks to all comers even if it means facilitating competing services over their own infrastructure. Minimal regulation is just one pillar of a robust mobile broadband market, Stephenson said. Collaboration and innovation in the wireless ecosystem and access to spectrum are the other two, but regulation is the most important, he concluded.
“If we don’t get this one right, the other two are irrelevant,” he said.“If we get this right the U.S. leads the world in productivity and innovation. If we get it wrong, we’ve squandered any hope for leadership.”
Though he only mentioned it in passing, Stephenson also highlighted what could be the first concrete result of the three-screen initiative it has promoted for several years: U-verse Mobile. The app, which is currently in AT&T’s labs, would link its home IPTV service directly to the handset, allowing customers to use a smartphone’s WiFi connection to view programming in real-time, on demand or even from the DVR on their devices. “I think this is a very exciting step forward in mobile entertainment,” Stephenson said.
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