CTIA: Mobile is mightier than the landline

Wireless traffic is increasing rapidly, and customers' expectations are rising almost as fast, according to the keynote speakers...

Wireless traffic is increasing rapidly, and customers' expectations are rising almost as fast, according to the keynote speakers at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association's annual wireless convention in Orlando, Florida.

"For an increasing number of Americans, their wireless phone is their principal phone. Wireless has become the antidote to the residential phone monopoly," said Tom Wheeler, president and chief executive officer of CTIA.

About half of the US adult population has a mobile phone, Wheeler said. Customers have become more demanding, and are no longer willing to tolerate problems such as dropped calls. To keep up, carriers would need to add services such as streaming video.

Wheeler called on the US government to allocate 120MHz of spectrum for new wireless services, and to not impose a requirement for number portability on wireless carriers. Number portability would allow customers to keep their mobile phone number when switching carriers, but service providers do not want to pay for new switching equipment. They claim that the high rate of customer turnover indicates that customers are willing to leave a carrier for a better deal even if it means changing their number.

Wheeler quizzed a US government official and several technology executives in the morning session. Patricia Russo, chief executive officer of Lucent Technologies, and John Stanton, chairman and chief executive officer of VoiceStream, were among those taking the stage.

Russo addressed the health of her company early in the talk show-style chat with Wheeler. "We will survive the industry cycle we're going through," she said, pointing to improving margins and cost-cutting at Lucent.

Consumers will, increasingly, use their mobile phones rather than pick up their home phone landline, she said. Fewer calls over the wired network have damaged revenues in telecommunication service.

Wireless carriers want Lucent to help them offer new kinds of services, to help drive down carrier costs and to help find the right path to network technology for third-generation services, Russo said.

High-speed wireless data services, such as 3G or the Wi-Fi fixed wireless standard for high-speed LANs, known as 802.11b, will become increasingly ubiquitous in all digital communication devices. Stanton said that one of the industry challenges will be finding a way for customers to move seamlessly from one kind of wireless service to another.

Mobile phones, personal digital assistants and other devices would combine both 3G and 802.11b capabilities in the same device next year, Stanton added. A device that supported both 3G and 802.11b would allow an Internet user to stay connected wirelessly while on the move, between high bandwidth and low-cost 802.11b LANs and 3G networks with higher costs and lower bandwidth, without breaking the connection along the way.

"Wi-Fi is a threat and an opportunity," he said. The range of subscriptions customers have with their carriers, content providers, office networks, LANs and others may prove to be a daunting set of complex relationships to manage for really seamless movement..

"In all cases, every carrier is going to want to be fairly compensated, and frankly, make money on the transaction," he said.

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