So how was CTIA?

The flight back from CTIA was taken up by trying to “close off” as many actions as possible by emails, and then on lying back and reviewing what I had seen at the show – ready to report back to all the people who would say “so how was CTIA?”.

In a word: Quiet

CTIA has traditionally been about “big bang” announcements of major new initiatives (mobile TV, mobile advertising, Java initiatives, music clubs, big brands doing stuff….) but I did not see any of those – apart from the Virgin/Google joint venture – Virgle – to put a colony on Mars that was announced on 1st April.

Without those big announcements that everybody could have an opinion about, the show got down to basics.  75% of the activity seemed to be about companies trying to snare mobile carriers – the main reason CTIA is held.  25% of the activity was around networking and selling between other parties who where there.

Bango had a busy booth and a lot of off-site activity, but 50% of that activity was with existing customers, 25% was with prospects we had already met with and the remaining 25% was new contacts.  Talking with staff on the AdMob, Yahoo!dotMobi, Microsoft and other mobile web booths indicated the same balance of activity and similar sentiment.

So the show was productive and worthwhile, but not a sudden stimulus to new activity or a change in thinking that it might have been in the past.  Also, with Vegas easily able to mop up 20,000+ people who attend, there was little of the buzz/chaos/excitement of a Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – which has 80,000 there incl. hangers on.

One big trend we did identify was an increasing interest from the carriers in moving towards WAP billing models to cut down on the customer service hassles and the that are caused or enabled by Premium SMS’s model of “out of band billing”. No real news, but an awful lot of activity.

My current hypothesis is that DRM is on the way out.  Its too user hostile and there are so many ways to bypass it.  I recently bought (for the first time) a track from iTunes – and discovered to my disappointment that I could not play the track on my phone – even though I could make it play on my PC – until I used a special tool that makes MP3 files direct from your sound driver….   Everybody I met at CTIA seemed to accept the same belief, although with different estimates of timings.  In 3 years time I suspect we will hardly be able to remember when you could not transfer your music to any device you wanted, or when some carriers offered “subscription music services” where you lost everything when you stopped subscribing. 

CTIA Spring 2008 shows the industry is maturing – moving away from novelties and towards the real grind of getting down to business.  For mobile webbers, the September event always seems very dynamic – with the focus more being on content and services.  Its in San Francisco this time, so web heads will definitely be around – and we are really looking forward to it!