Wireless carrier bigwigs deliver keynotes ‘full of platitudes’ at CTIA

SAN DIEGO — The heads of the three largest wireless carriers in the country shared the big stage but no news this morning at CTIA Enterprise & Applications 2011. The 90-minute opening keynote session was “full of platitudes” and signified nothing new, Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, remarked in a tweet.

Sprint Chairman and CEO Dan Hesse took the role of industry cheerleader as this year’s chairman of the CTIA board, adding: “Those of us in the wireless industry should be thankful that we’re arguably in the most important industry in the world.”

Though peppered with some classic Hesse punch lines, the executive was less effusive than normal and appeared less inspired by the message than normal. Overall, all three executives — Hesse, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega and Verizon Wireless President and CEO Dan Mead — were short on enthusiasm.

The key messages and themes from the opening keynotes were innovation, collaboration, app proliferation and cloud computing. There was nothing provocative, particularly insightful or against the grain.

Geo-political impacts
Hesse did make particular mention of mobile technology’s impact on the geo-political stage, adding that “wireless technology has facilitated major political change.” Pictures, tweets and status updates sent from cellphones contributed greatly to the Arab Spring, he said.

“This is a wonderful time for all of us in the wireless industry to make a positive change in the world,” whether it be to stimulate economic growth, foster political changes or reduce our environmental footprint, Hesse said.

“I believe we’re on the verge of a mobile revolution,” de la Vega said. “I say it’s the perfect storm of innovation.”

Great ideas can come from anywhere, he said. “The landscape has driven us at AT&T to rethink how we do business internally and externally. The first thing that we realized at AT&T is that we can’t wait for innovation to come to us. We have to go to where the innovation is.”

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have all opened collaboration centers in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere to support startup-type innovation and increase the development cycle.

The opportunity for developers to create game-changing technologies and applications has never been greater, de la Vega added.

Health care
Hesse also addressed the tremendous opportunity mobile technology has to drive down costs and improve efficiency in health care. There is an undeniable economic benefit that wireless brings to the health care industry, he said, adding that U.S. health care costs are rising 6% annually.

“Wireless has the potential to significantly reduce these hidden costs” with advanced monitoring, diagnostic apps and other connected devices, he said.

At least 500 million smartphone users worldwide are expected to use an m-health app by 2015 and there are more than 4,000 apps on the market now, Hesse continued.

Environmental impact
Finally, another area of focus for Hesse at CTIA this year has been the environment, namely the wireless industry’s collective impact on the environment.

CTIA is on the verge of adopting new recycling benchmarks that will increase the number of recycled devices 20% by 2015. Only 10% of all mobile devices are collected for recycling today.

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