Active market marks wireless show

Enterprise network professionals will find several nuggets at this week's consumer-oriented CTIA Wireless 2005 conference, which convenes in New Orleans during a period of dramatic industry change.

Since the last CTIA, Cingular bought AT&T Wireless and Sprint launched its bid for Nextel. Subscribers continue to mushroom, as Ford Motor announced recently it was unwiring 8,000 phones, and the University of Notre Dame said cellular use among students might allow it to cap 3,000 dormitory wall jacks. And the migration to 3G looms.

Maybe that's why attendance at this year's show is expected to be up 15% from last year's 35,000, according to officials at CTIA - The Wireless Association . The number of exhibitors is expected to be up 20% over last year, to 1,000.

"With cellular, consumer capabilities are often a very good preamble to the business capabilities," says Keith Waryas, an analyst at IDC. "The early adopters of all these advanced data services are business users. People use their phone primarily for business purposes."

Key conference sessions for business users will focus on challenges in internetworking wireless voice networks with next-generation IP infrastructures; the impact of municipalities, such as Philadelphia , offering metropolitan Wi-Fi access; and potential pitfalls of mobile voice-over-Wi-Fi implementations.

There's a whole day of sessions devoted to Wi-Fi VoIP, including one on whether users' ability to access certain features depends on which carrier they subscribe to.

"You'll see some of the first Wi-Fi and wide-area cellular devices . . . able to offer some converged services that leverage broadband IP networks in the enterprise with cellular networks," says Mark Lowenstein, managing director of consultancy Mobile Ecosystem. "Convergence is a pretty important theme this year with the growth in VoIP and all the related equipment in the enterprise."

Those enterprise-class devices will be BlackBerries, PDAs and IP PBXs. IP PBX maker Avaya just last week announced an agreement with Nokia to add full business VoIP capabilities to Nokia's cellular mobile devices, and another with Symbian to add business VoIP to Symbian's operating system for mobile enterprise smart phones.

But wireless VoIP won't be the only convergence theme at the show. Users will hear vendor plans to support the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) - the architectural blueprint for bridging IP-based wireless and wireline networks and services that support integrated voice/data/ video applications.

For example, Sun plans to announce partnerships with a lineup of IMS application developers. The company is pledging product development support for Sun's Netra Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture blade server platform.

"The real story [of CTIA] could end up being IMS," IDC's Waryas says. "Convergence between networks - landline and wireless - is going to probably be one of the hottest issues two and three years out."

Currently, corporate users are charged separately and distinctly for wireline and wireless services, even if they are from the same carrier, Waryas says. Users typically can't get a bundled discount price or seek cost advantages from number-of-users scale, he says.

IMS will let carriers create a user interface for mobile enterprise customers from which they can select business and personal content and have it automatically billed to a business or personal account.

"It simply allocates it to a different spending bucket so that can go onto a personal credit card, a direct bill," Waryas says. Companies "are going to push back and say, 'We'll consolidate accounts and buy these data plans, but we don't want this, this and this going over the handsets.'"

Qualcomm also plans to unveil its IMS strategy at CTIA, a week after announcing that Chairman and CEO Irwin Jacobs will relinquish his CEO title to his son, Paul Jacobs. The elder Jacobs will remain chairman.

Other major CTIA announcements include:

• Sprint's launch of its Extended Workplace remote-access platform, which offers business users a secure platform to access a corporate VPN via Sprint's PCS Vision wireless data service, dial-up or Wi-Fi.

Sprint also is expected to announce the first wireless data service-level agreement (SLA). Sprint's wireless data SLA is guaranteeing 99.5% network availability, and that data blocking caused by congestion will be less than 2%, and drops less than 1%.

One drawback is that users are required to have someone internally manage and monitor the SLA. "It requires resources that some users may not have," says Bob Egan, president of consulting firm Mobile Competency.

• Start-up FiberTower will emerge from stealth mode at CTIA.

Founded four years ago, FiberTower is a backhaul services company competing with the local exchange carriers as a replacement for copper T-1 backhaul - the "weak link" in wireless networks, according to the company. FiberTower has national contracts with three of the Big 5 U.S. wireless operators.

• Verizon Wireless is providing an update on its V Cast streaming media service, which launched Feb. 1. Verizon Wireless is expected to divulge download information by content and frequency, and rank handsets that perform best with the service.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022