Report from CTIA Wireless 2002
By Justin Ried, Wed Mar 20 00:00:00 GMT 2002

TheFeature's roaming the aisles in sunny and warm Orlando, Florida - host to this year's CTIA gathering. And guess what? The weather isn't the only thing heating up here...

CTIA Wireless is traditionally where one can find all the latest and greatest in the North American mobile market. This year companies are implementing new strategies in their efforts to capture a market that's still, in many ways, up for grabs.

Redmond pushes mobility

Microsoft's stepped-up the pressure on incumbent hardware and software vendors in the North American market by announcing cooperation with four leading US operators: Verizon, VoiceStream, Sprint PCS, and Cingular. The companies have all announced that they plan on deploying Pocket PC-based devices on their networks this year.

The nation's largest carrier with 29.4 million customers, Verizon launched the Audiovox Thera (a word that means 'opening' or 'gateway' in Greek). The Thera is one of the first Pocket PC devices designed to operate on Verizon's fledgling CDMA2000 1X "Express Network." The 199g device sports 32MB ROM/32MB RAM, and SD card slot, a color screen and the same 206Mhz Intel StrongARM chip that powers the popular Compaq iPAQ. With a built-in Windows Media Player and real-world network throughput in excess of 40kbps, the Thera is set to become the first real mobile multimedia solution available on the North American market.

"Thera is an example of the innovation that's possible with Pocket PC software. Powerful functionality that comes standard on every Pocket PC like web browsing, instant messaging, and e-mail, are made more compelling by the integration of wireless," said Juha Christensen, vice president of mobility at Microsoft. "We're also very excited about Verizon Wireless' commitment to offer customers smart, Windows Powered devices and we welcome them as the first US CDMA carrier to do so."

The unit can also be used as a dual-band CDMA 800/1900Mhz phone, and will start shipping later in the spring. Verizon's pricing structure hasn't yet been finalized, but the hardware itself should run about $800, according to an Audiovox spokeswoman.

Sprint PCS and VoiceStream both followed suit by making announcements based on Microsoft's platform. Sprint PCS will, like Verizon, offer the Audiovox Thera on its CDMA2000 1X network when it goes live this summer. VoiceStream will offer another as yet unnamed device running Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition, an enhanced version of the software found on the Thera. (Quite possibly a VoiceStream-branded, HTC-manufactured XDA)

Look for Sendo to make a splash on both sides of the Atlantic this year. Cingular is reportedly waiting for the company to complete its Z100 device built around Pocket PC 2002 Smartphone Edition. Cingular appears ready to put the device into the hands of customers as soon as Sendo can get it out the door.

Sleepy Symbian

It was a relatively quiet show for the Symbian crowd, though the Nokia 9290 Communicator and the SonyEricsson P800 were both on display. The Nokia 9290 is reportedly ready to go on sale before long, and Nokia representative Treg Tyler said the device should be in the hands of consumers before summer.

The push by Microsoft may seem like a severe blow to software rival Symbian, whose licensees (which include Nokia, Motorola, and SonyEricsson) have yet to release a single Symbian OS device in the US. But Seamus McAteer, principle analyst with the San Francisco-based research firm the Zelos Group, thinks people could be reading more into this than they should. "You've got to look at volumes, who's shipping mobile devices in greater numbers, Nokia or Compaq?" McAteer asks.

Nokia announced no less than 11 new products at CTIA Wireless 2002. Among them, two GSM/GPRS handsets (the 3590 and 6590), two CDMA2000 1X phones (the 6370 and 6385), the CDMA 8270, TDMA 8265, and the world's first GAIT compliant handset, the 6340.

One of the most important elements of Nokia's CTIA strategy is the release of the 6590, 3590 and 3585 phones with integrated next-generation XHTML browsers, something even European phones are currently lacking. An XHTML browser allows mobile surfers a way out of WAP 1.1/1.2's irritating WML confines.

(Notice that nobody used the term WAP 2.0? That's exactly what the XHTML browser is, of course. It seems Nokia realizes that the WAP name does more harm than good and dropped it altogether.)

Samsung was previewing two of its new 3G devices, to be used on Sprint PCS's CDMA2000 1X network when it goes live this summer. The SPH-n400 and the SPH-a500 both feature sleek and stylish packages, full-color screens, and polyphonic ringing tones. Pricing is not yet available.

Motorola's innovative V70 was on display and made quite a stir. With a sophisticated style, GPRS, an integrated FM radio and one-handed operation of the swiveling bezel, the device should please fans of both Coco Chanel and Captain Kirk. It'll be available in May from Cingular.

Gadget hounds were drooling over Motorola's new A820. Featuring third-generation network support, a built-in camera, MMS support, an MP3 player, and GPS support, this one is set to roll out by the end of the year. Sadly, no firm date is yet available for the release.

Microsoft's mobile moves

While steadily eroding Palm's market share of the PDA market, Microsoft's segue into the wireless arena caught much of the focus at CTIA this year. For now, it seems that Redmond is content to work with the operators directly in bringing Pocket PC-based phones to market, since none of the major mobile phone manufacturers have taken them up on the proposition.

It'll be tough for Microsoft to make headway into the consumer market in the short term. Most of its devices are big, expensive, power-hungry, and lack the name-brand sex appeal that many consumers look for in their mobile device. That could change, however, if the operators properly market the devices and the platform's technologies prove compelling enough.

With visions of P800s dancing in his head, Justin Ried covers mobile technology for TheFeature.