CTIA: A Wireless World in Sin City

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Upwards of 40,000 mobile gadget aficionados, business executives and people in between will travel to Las Vegas next week to check out cutting-edge content and communications products.

The event, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless 2006 show, is the most lauded in the wireless industry for consistently showcasing technologies and handheld devices that let people communicate better.

Little Bit of Everything in The 'Sausage'

Wireless subscribers will flock to learn about the advantages of mobile virtual network operators versus traditional carriers such as Sprint.

Vendors will come to debate the merits of WiMAX versus 3G cellular technology. Consumers will attend to applaud or jeer how mobile content, such as music and video, looks on mobile phones and handheld computers.

"When all of this gets smashed together and out into the grinder and spit out the other end, then it will have a definition," Mesirow said, when asked to sum up the wireless industry.

"Right now, we're making sausage. We're sort of in this weird space where wireless is defining itself."

WiMAX Takes on 3G

For every competent technology, there is an equally competent one to match. So goes one theory anyway. Depending on who you talk to, that idea holds true in the battle of WiMAX (define) versus 3G (define), or cellular technology.

WiMAX, or IEEE 802.16, is wireless broadband. It's basically the science of bringing a fatter data pipe into the home or business to power computers without the typical broadband cable.

WiMAX is expected to be a popular topic at CTIA for some vendors, whose fates hinge on the ability to sell investors on the technology at a time when cellular technologies are entrenched.

Soma Networks President Greg Caltabiano, whose company makes data stations and terminals to outfit entire networks in wireless broadband, refutes the notion that one technology is better than another.

He said that WiMAX is for green field operators, most of whom are not mobile carriers but ISPs, or carriers that don't have local access.

"WiMAX providers are IP-centric and don't go for ubiquitous coverage like cellular does," Caltabiano said in an interview. "Why are you going to try to compete against something that's been out there forever and has billions and billions of dollars in the ground to get that coverage?"

The executive pointed out that WiMAX can handle different frequencies, offering service on frequencies not traditionally allocated for mobile carriers.

"The issue is no longer whether or not WiMAX will happen," Caltabiano said. "The issue is how successful it will be, not whether it will have some degree of success."

Research companies like In-Stat seem to agree, arguing that WiMAX equipment could become a $3 billion market by 2010, provided that the cost of subscriber units -– modems -– falls from the current $500 to $100.

The debate rages on. Skeptics like Gartner analyst Tole Hart said his research firm is not that positive on WiMAX.

"Fixed WiMAX, we think, will be like a fill-in solution," Hart said. "For mobile WiMAX, Sprint is deciding on a 4G technology to go with and WiMAX is one of them, but it does not seem like a leading option. It will probably take awhile."

But Lars Johnsson, vice president of business development for WiMAX chipmaker BeCeem, said his company is hustling, along with Intel, Fujitsu and other startups, to get WiMAX-based chips into more equipment.

He is aware of criticisms people have levied at WiMAX.

But Johnsson said he feels confident that carriers like Nokia, Lucent, Ericcson and Samsung are business-centric, not technology-centric, making them more open to evaluating technology based on market potential instead of religion and IP licensing.

He noted that the Korean government has already allocated a bunch of spectrum for WiMAX, with Samsung taking the lead.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com. To read the full article, click here.

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