By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
If you still think it's a cellular show, you're probably watching Dynasty reruns, leasing your home phone, and paying off a 17 percent mortgage.
Wireless 2005, scheduled here from March 14-16, will host its usual share of cellular-handset and infrastructure suppliers, but they'll increasingly share the spotlight with a growing number of Wi-Fi, WiMax, RFID and voice over IP (VoIP) exhibitors, according to show sponsor CTIA.
In another sign of change, new names will grace the exhibitor marquee, with more Chinese handset suppliers with such names as BenQ and Futurewei turning up for the first time alongside first-time exhibitor Kodak, which will anchor the show's first-ever mobile-imaging pavilion. In the pavilion, dozens of companies will exhibit hardware and software components, delivery services and printing solutions for the mobile imaging industry.
Kodak's presence underscores the industry's growing dependency on data services, such as picture messaging, to boost revenue, even as the price of talking gets cheaper.
Signaling another major industry shift, the show will highlight the role of wireless technology in the home-network and home-automation markets. A 7,000-square-foot house within the city's convention center will be tricked out with Wi-Fi, WiMax and possibly ZigBee applications, as well as personal area network technologies such as Bluetooth and ultrawideband. A 70-inch plasma TV in the house will give attendees an opportunity to assess WiMax's role as a potential vehicle to deliver HDTV, not just broadband data, to consumers' homes.
In the future, RFID technology could turn up in the home, where RFID-tagged food in refrigerators and cabinets would be inventoried automatically to propose meal options. RFID could also turn up in cellular handsets to display product information from RFID-tagged products on store shelves or pay for RFID-tagged products.
The industry's wireless-data drive is also underscored by the doubling of exhibit space for the Mobile Entertainment Expo, a 50,000-square-foot show-within-a-show that will give attendees a glimpse of what's coming in the downloading and streaming of music, video and video games. The Expo will include the latest cellphones that double as digital cameras, MP3 players, portable FM radios, PDAs, handheld game players and portable media players (PMPs).
It's getting harder to recognize the names of the exhibitors as more Chinese manufacturers exhibit at the show, including first-time exhibitors BenQ and Futurewei.
They'll be among the more than 1,000 exhibitors expected to set up booths at the show, marking a "slight increase" from last year, said CTIA's operations VP Rob Mesirow. Exhibit space will also rise by about 25,000 square feet to a total of more than 300,000, he said. "We're at capacity."
Industry changes will be reflected not only on the show floor but also in the topics of seminars and keynote speeches. The first day's keynote speakers, for example, are Kodak's chairman Daniel Carp and ESPN/ABC Sports' president George Bodenheimer. Seminar topics include metropolitan Wi-Fi networks, the convergence of wireless and TV, and wireless VoIP.
Many of the seminar topics focus on the potential for new wireless technologies either to compete with incumbent wireless carriers or complement their services. The topics are gaining prominence because of expected slowing in net new subscriber growth in 2005 following two years of surging growth. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), for example, projects the U.S. wireless subscriber base (including paging subscribers) expanded in 2004 by 9 percent to 173.7 million users, most of whom (163.1 million) were cellular subscribers. Growth will average 5.2 percent on a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) basis through 2008, when the subscriber base will hit about 200 million, TIA said.
Subscribers' spending on wireless services, however, will rise at a faster rate because of new non-voice applications, TIA contends. "As subscriber growth diminishes and the wireless subscriber market reaches maturity, rising prices associated with new applications and plans such as wireless Internet access, text messaging, instant messaging, ringtones, wireless games, multimedia messaging services and Wi-Fi technologies will drive the market," the association said. As a result, although per-minute voice charges are falling, "spending on wireless communications services is expected to rise by 11.1 percent in 2005, reaching $113.1 billion, and to expand at a 10.4 percent CAGR, reaching an estimated $151.1 billion in 2008."
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