Coming to you live from the Tuesday morning keynote session at CTIA Wireless 2007 in Orlando. This is my fourth CTIA, best I can recall, and each year the stage props get bigger, the music gets more pounding, and the crowds get larger. At last fall's CTIA, in Los Angeles, we were joined by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This year's edition will have a political cast as well: those strange bedfellows (and former U.S. presidents) George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will show up on Thursday morning.Not showing up is Ed Zander, the embattled CEO of Motorola. Zander pleaded "personal reasons" for canceling his keynote this morning, as if the company's plunging share price and dismal results the last two quarters had nothing to do with it.
"I don't think Zander will last out the year," an industry insider told me at Mobile Focus, over at the Peabody Hotel, last night.
But hey! Here's Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA. Former Hall-of-Fame NFL wide receiver, former Republican congressman, Largent has successfully transformed himself into a consummate Beltway hack.
"We the consumers are the true winners when it comes to wireless," Largent enthuses (with the Final Four coming up this weekend, and defending national champion Florida vying to repeat, there's a pervasive "March Madness" theme to many of the presentations this week).
Then he sits down for a têtê-à-têtê with Kevin Martin, the baby-faced chairman of the FCC who in his two years in the position has done a good job of navigating political minefields while more or less keeping the government out of the wireless industry's hair. What he hasn't managed to do is get the spectrum due to be given up by the television broadcasters, considered prime bandwidth for wireless operators, onto the market. To Largent, Martin admits as much, saying it's been almost a decade that that spectrum has been talked about as ripe for transfer. "The most important issue before us is making sure that we're ready to auction off that spectrum before the end of the year," says Martin.
It's about time.
Next up is AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who has the mien of an undertaker and about as much charisma. Stephenson gives a rather content-free presentation on the future of wireless, repeating over and over that the customer is king. Underlining his point, by far the most interesting part of his talk, is a couple of user-created video clips that were part of a promotional contest AT&T put on recently. There's a certain amount of irony that Stephenson, the head of the reconstituted Ma Bell, which fought to control its monopoly in the face of consumer protest and competitive forces for many years, should be talking about the primacy of customer choice. Such is today's wireless industry.
Also ironic is the third keynote, from Research In Motion co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, the Abbot to Jim Balsillie's Costello in the RIM senior management pairing. The last-minute replacement for Zander, Lazaridis manages to be even less colorful than Stephenson, running through a laundry list of new and semi-new applications for wireless-data devices. Lazaridis uses the term "open APIs" about a dozen times -- which is paradoxical considering that RIM is in a dogfight to preserve its closed mobile e-mail system in the face of growing competition from more open systems such as Windows Mobile 6, recently introduced by Microsoft.
Indeed, last up is Pieter Knook of Microsoft, who is more or less the mobile and wireless czar in Redmond, and as he launches into yet another description of what we all want in the mobile environment that we've all heard before, I'm wondering, "Whatever happened to making big announcements at CTIA keynotes?" I'm thirsty for some real news here.
"Extending the promise of Web 2.0" blah blah blah. "We're expecting those services to be available not just on the PC, but increasingly we want them to be available in the mobile environment," etc., etc.
"There should be an open software platform," Knook says, "that should really facilitate access to these different services and tools."
This gives him an excuse to launch into a commercial for Windows in its Vista, Mobile, Live, and Server incarnations. He moves on to a demo of the HTC Shift, an "ultra-mobile PC" that runs full Windows Vista.
Yawns ripple through the crowd. I'm headed back to the press room to snag a stale doughnut, which is an apt metaphor for the keynotes I just sat through.