Carriers Square Off at CTIA, But Sparks Fail to Fly

NEW ORLEANS — At CTIA, the heads of America’s four largest carriers paid lip service to their respective pet projects and, in some cases, their favorite the-sky-is-falling scenarios of the day. Following extended commercial-like keynotes from each executive (complete with those obligatory sizzle reels), they all joined together on stage to field questions from one of the country’s most bombastic and outlandish TV personalities, Jim Cramer of CNBC, who came on stage calling mobile the “fastest-changing industry in the world.”

It could and should have been fireworks, but alas, nary a fuse was lit. Other than the occasional spat over which network is faster, better, greater — ad nauseum — disagreements were few and far between. And that’s unfortunate for the hundreds of millions of customers who send their money to AT&T MobilitySprint NextelT-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless every month.

All four of the carriers want more spectrum and less regulation, unless of course it’s one of their competitors getting caught up in regulators’ crosshairs.

Dan Mead, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, got the first run on stage, noting that the last time CTIA was held in New Orleans seven years ago there were no smartphones or tablets.

Mobile has “created new markets, new jobs and new industries,” he says. “The wireless industry has been one of the country’s greatest growth engines.”

He backed up the need for more spectrum, saying demand for mobile data will be 25- to 50-times greater in 2015 than it was in 2010. “Mobile data demand will likely exceed capacity by 2014… Data usage on our network has more than doubled in each of the last three years,” Mead says. Verizon Wireless says it will need additional spectrum in some markets by 2013 and many more markets by 2015. The carrier’s LTE network will reach 400 markets by the end of this year.

Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse focused on the reputation of carriers and America’s leadership position in mobile technology.

“No other country comes close to America’s LTE investments,” Hesse boasts. Despite that, studies that show that carriers’ reputation with consumers has declined of late and Hesse wants to reverse that trend.

“I focus so intently on reputation because the future of our industry is about personalization,” he says. “There has never been a device in history more personal than the smartphone… Trust and values are at the heart of reputation.”

Philipp Humm, CEO and president of T-Mobile USA, says he is pleased T-Mobile is back with a “reinvigorated challenger strategy.” Humm’s two primary points were around the future of what he called “intelligent unlimited rate plans” and the need for more spectrum to deal with an exploding demand for data.

Over the last five years, the amount of data crossing T-Mobile USA’s network has grown 146 times, he says. The average customer uses 760MB of data each month today, whereas it was just 25MB in 2009.

And finally, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega, reiterated his focus on innovation. “At AT&T we have dramatically changed the way that we think about innovation,” he says. “We don’t wait for great ideas to come to us anymore. We go looking for them.”

AT&T Foundry and The Innovation Pipeline (TIP) were both offered as examples of AT&T’s new approach. More than 120,000 AT&T employees participate in TIP today, making it the largest corporate crowd sourcing program in the world, de la Vega says. The program has generated more than 17,000 ideas to date and AT&T has committed financial resource to develop 50 of those projects thus far.

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