CTIA round-up: Wireless officials look ahead

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless 2002 show brought together 40,000 customers and vendors...

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless 2002 show brought together 40,000 customers and vendors of wireless equipment and services this week, many still reeling from a dicey economy and its impact on their operations.

Last year's big CTIA show in San Diego was cancelled following the September 11 terrorist attacks, so there was pent-up demand among attendees to meet partners and customers and see hundreds of new products. Yet while stalls were abundant, presentations were noticeably restrained, without the jugglers, acrobats and dancers of previous shows.

Even so, industry executives expressed optimism, while enterprise wireless managers outlined ambitious plans for wireless upgrades to their existing programs.

"Schwab is very bullish about wireless," said Jonathan Craig, vice president of wireless solutions at Charles Schwab in San Francisco. The financial services company has offered wireless trading functions to users for 18 months and now has 120,000 users, he said.

A survey of 1,200 of those users shows wireless customers do more trading and are more valuable to Schwab than customers using the phone or the wired Internet. Nearly 80% said that wireless connectivity provides an enhanced sense of control over their investments.

Craig said that customer response and top management's support of wireless had helped to keep the technology growing at Schwab. More applications are being planned, including innovations to personalise the interface with Java 2 Micro Edition and BREW operating systems. Faster connections being offered from carriers in the coming months will help, according to Craig.

Tom Fulton, general manager of eServices at Delta Air Lines, said wireless connectivity helped boost online ticket sales last year, with 4 million tickets sold online worth $1.5bn. (£1.05bn), about 7% of all ticket sales. Online and wireless sales and information have also helped Delta save costs.

"Our motto is to keep customers off the phone and out of line" - where they use the more expensive services of Delta personnel, Fulton said.

Among the wireless applications Delta hopes to roll out are rebooking of flights and baggage check-in. Wireless users at Delta and several other airlines can already check flight schedules and arrival/departure information.

Ken Pasley, director of wireless systems development at FedEx Services, said FedEx couriers make 5 million wireless transactions every day using a wireless infrastructure developed over the past two decades. The six operating companies of FedEx have annual revenues of $20bn.

Sometime in mid-2003, FedEx hopes to have couriers equipped with Bluetooth-enabled handhelds that communicate with other devices, including those used by customers, in a bid to simplify transactions and eliminate wires. There are also plans to enable drivers to use voice commands and receive oral driving directions from their devices to allow them to keep both hands on the steering wheel, Pasley said.

Not surprisingly, the CTIA show featured equipment vendors and carriers hyping the benefits of faster connections. Sprint said it expects to roll out faster third generation (3G) services, up to 144Kbps, this summer. Meanwhile, Verizon Communications announced a pricing plan based on the number of megabytes downloaded for 3G service now being offered along the East Coast, San Francisco and other areas.

Designed for business users, the pricing starts at $35 per month for 10MB of usage.

A special one-day telematics workshop sponsored by Telematics Update, a London-based magazine, attracted 100 wireless executives, several of whom bemoaned a disastrous year in the growth of telematics. Telematics provides wireless connections to vehicles for accident calls, vehicle health advisories and more typical Internet services to riders.

"The first generation of telematics has been a flop," said Pat Kennedy, chief executive officer of Cellport Systems. Nonetheless, he and other users foresee a gradual increase in demand for telematics services.

Michel Chriqui, director of business development for telematics at AT&T, said AT&T is joining other carriers in promoting "non-embedded" telematics for vehicles. That means users carry their cell phones into their cars, where they're connected to the car to provide an emergency call in a collision and monitor the car's "health" through electronics embedded in the car.

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