Get ready for CTIA

The CTIA Wireless tradeshow kicks off this week in Sin City and we’re going to be busting our humps to bring you the best coverage. We already have boots on the ground and are prepped for a big show full of news. Read after the break for a thorough preview of what to expect from the biggest U.S. mobile tradeshow.

4G, here we come

After years of promise and hope, we’re about to enter an era of high-bandwidth mobile data networks that have the potential to change the way we work and play. Sprint is in the lead because its WiMax services are already deliver more than 10 Mbps on the go to multiple markets. There are multiple signs that Sprint will unveil the nation’s first 4G smartphone during the conference and the handset looks like a winner. The HTC Supersonic, or some variation of it, is expected to have a 4.3-inch AMOLED touch display, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, run Android 2.1 with Sense and have at least a 5-megapixel camera. This handset has to be dual-mode, so you’ll still be able to fall back on 3G data if there’s no WiMax in your area.

I’m really stoked about 4G smartphones but there are some potential drawbacks. Battery life is at the top of the list and we don’t know how the pricing will work. Still, the ability to have home broadband speeds at your fingertips is highly intriguing and it could lead to some amazing new services.

Sprint will likely get most of the 4G glory at the conference, but I expect to hear a lot from Verizon regarding its next-generation mobile broadband network. The nation’s largest carrier has aggressive plans to roll out a 4G network based on Long-Term Evolution technology and, while we won’t see a handset from them this year, Big Red is sure to tell us more details. AT&T and T-Mobile are focusing on expanding and boosting its own 3G networks, and we should get a status update from these carriers.

All eyes on Microsoft

It’s been a long while since Microsoft was cool in the mobile space, but the software giant is turning some heads with its horribly-named Windows Phone 7 Series. The new mobile platform is a complete break from the past and it looks like a winner so far. We’ve learned a lot about the platform at MIX 2010 but we could get a few more details at CTIA. We’ve seen prototype devices from LG, Samsung and Acer, and we may finally get an official announcement and release data on WP7S handsets. Even if that doesn’t happen, we’ll be sure to get more hands-on time with this intriguing OS.

It’s not just WP7S though, as Microsoft could finally formally announce its Project Pink devices. We’ve seen blurry shots of these high-end feature phones emerge and these are going to run a proprietary OS (perhaps based on Zune OS) that is different from WP7S. This OS has been described as fast, responsive, “better than Android,” and it will have strong social networking integration. I’m still not sold that it’s a smart move targeting the teen and tween market, but we should see the Pink phones hitting Verizon soon.

Attack of the Android

A year ago, there were still some questions about how successful Android would be, but it’s clear that Google’s OS is a force to be reckoned with. Every major U.S. carrier is now offering at least one Android handset and T-Mobile and Verizon, in particular, are basing its high-end lineup on the Linux-based platform.

The Nexus One is going to be on all four U.S. carriers and I’d expect Verizon to make the official support announcement this week. Verizon could also delight us and officially introduce the HTC Incredible, as well. AT&T just released the Backflip, so I’m not expecting much Android news from them, and Sprint will probably show off the 4G Android-powered Supersonic. T-Mobile’s Android lineup is getting pretty long in the tooth, and this would be a perfect opportunity to attract some interest with a new handset.

Not everything is roses with Android though, as we’re starting to see some growing concerns about fragmentation. New devices like the Backflip are being sold new with Android 1.5, while many are anxiously awaiting an upgrade to Android 2.1. This moving target may create large headaches for developers, who may prefer the relatively standardized platform of the iPhone or WPS7.

App, app and away

Smartphones should take center stage at the show and – with certain exceptions – we’re seeing parity in the specs of the high-end devices. The next iPhone probably won’t blow away the HTC Incredible in terms of hardware features but the software and apps will increasingly enable companies to stand out from the crown. There will be multiple sessions on how to make, market and distribute mobile apps, as well as some exciting new programs. The iPhone and Android may get the most attention, but we’re sure to spot some cool new apps for BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Mobile/WP7S and maybe even Symbian.

One of the most interesting segments of the app space should be location-based services. Companies like Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla are already carving out niches in this space and Google and Facebook are looming like giants. Loopt CEO Sam Altman said the market for these types of services is ripe and it will only continue to grow because consumers are getting more comfortable broadcasting their location. The potential benefits are clear: I’m not the biggest fan of the check-in crazy, but you can be sure I’ll be using some of these to find the events, parties and hot scoops at the show.

Altman also said that fragmentation could be a bigger issue – particularly for Android – and he’s excited about the potential of Microsoft’s latest platform. As for 4G, the extra bandwidth can enable exciting new services but Altman said many developers aren’t too focused on this yet.

“We’ve been told that 4G is coming for years and it hasn’t happened yet,” Altman said. “Developers have been disappointed and just put it out of their minds. When it comes, it will be great, but we have significant bandwidth today to make compelling products.”

The big players are bound to produce some large headlines but CTIA is fun because it will also be packed with smaller companies showing off cool technologies, accessories and apps. We’ll do our best to cover it all while not losing too much at the craps table, so stay tuned.

Back to top ▴