The Worst of CTIA Spring 2011: 4 Losers Below the Rest

Earlier I covered the best of CTIA Wireless Spring 2011, and where there are winners, there must be losers. Today let’s discuss the companies that definitely did not bring their A-game to this week’s show.

1. AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

This was the big elephant in the room for the entire show, so let’s get it out of the way: the talk of AT&T acquiring T-Mobile in a $39 billion deal began on Sunday and didn’t let up for the entire show, the buzz overshadowing any other significant announcements that were made this week. Everybody was talking about it, because everybody had an opinion — and most opinions were geared toward the negative. Heck, even Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint got in on the quotable comments, saying the deal would “stifle innovation”, his company pledging to fight the merger to the bitter end by submitting its concerns to Congress.

Some in the industry may argue that this merger actually belongs in the “Best of” article, and I’m not trying to persuade them otherwise. However, the buzz about this deal took the wind out of the sails of every other product announced at this show. Including some products going directly to AT&T, as it would seem.

Though the company was in everyone’s conversations the whole week, the company itself did not demand much of a presence at this year’s CTIA. While AT&T announced the upcoming launch of the Thrill 4G, HTC HD7S and Acer Iconia A501 Honeycomb tablet, only the HTC HD7S was available for pictures. They put on a meet-and-greet with the press where the Thrill 4G and Iconia were supposed to be shown off, but instead we saw an unbranded LG Optimus 3D seen at MWC and a Froyo-powered Iconia A500 tablet that debuted at CES.

2. Motorola

Talk about a turnaround — Motorola was arguably the best of show at CES in January and also put on a very strong showing at MWC, but they had absolutely zero new products to show off this week at CTIA, even though they had a pretty nice booth set up. The Motorola Xoom, Atrix 4G and laptop dock were on display, and even a DROID Pro for good measure, but little else.

Motorola could be considered one of the casualties of a crammed schedule during the first 3 months of the year, with 3 trade shows happening during that time. Motorola had enough groundbreaking new stuff to bring with it to the first 2 shows, but appeared to run out of gas after MWC.

3. Verizon LTE

I went to CTIA eager to test out the brand-new, still-in-diapers Verizon LTE network. I brought two LTE devices with me to try out while there, and it was not an enjoyable experience.

Allow me to clarify before I continue: my remarks are not condemning Verizon’s network at all. In fact, in the places I could use it I got excellent results – typically ranging anywhere from 6-20 Mbps down and 2-6 Mbps up. But I have a feeling that at CTIA, an event that took place the week after the first LTE phone went on sale, thousands upon thousands of early adopters were doing their darndest to use up as much of the super-fast speeds as they could.

At CTIA, my experience with Verizon’s LTE network was very frustrating. First, my Thunderbolt from day one had constant issues with both tethering via USB and working as a mobile hotspot — the speeds were great on the phone specifically but I saw opposite results on my laptop when attempting to tether. My Pantech USB card was better, but on multiple instances I got randomly disconnected and had a difficult time reconnecting.

I know that several of my colleagues were having similar concerns at the show, and the complaints did not let up for the entirety of the show. My hotel, about a mile away from the convention center, also had spotty LTE coverage so I could not achieve the legendary 4G speeds that should be experienced on this network. With Verizon 4G having been such a new service, not very many people are subscribed to it. This makes it nice for anyone using the 4G service — the less people using it, the faster speeds you have access to, after all — but this experience at CTIA worries me that when 4G subscribers number in the millions, Verizon’s infrastructure will not be able to supply enough bandwidth for customers to get access to these legendary speeds.

4. Blackberry

Research in Motion had one big announcement to make this week, and it came AFTER CTIA was over: the Blackberry Playbook will officially support Android apps to be used on it. This is pretty huge news, but apparently not big enough to be worth mentioning at the show. Blackberry did not have a booth at CTIA this year; instead, they came to a press event Tuesday night to show off the Playbook, and that was it. I found a single Blackberry rep showing off the Playbook at the Sprint booth during the show who was talking up Sprint’s 4G version, but that was it.

Simply put, RIM pulled a Motorola and just didn’t have anything to bring to the party. The only thing worth noting is that pricing and launch dates were finally announced for the WiFi-only model; the 16 GB will go for $499, 32 GB for $599, and 64 GB for $699. This will remain on par with the iPad 2’s prices in order to stay competitive. The Playbook is now available for pre-order and will officially go on sale April 19.

Beyond that one announcement, RIM stayed quiet during the show. It will sure be interesting to see if RIM’s huge investment and emphasis on the Playbook will pay off.

Dozens of products were on display at CTIA Spring 2011, and we saw as many of them as possible in a short time. The companies listed above are typically major players at shows like this, but this year were either non-existent, disappointing or just had a booth with nothing new in it. I imagine that since CTIA Spring 2012 will be  held in May next year, US companies will have plenty of extra time available to polish up new devices, and crank out the hardware to make it look all nice and schnazzy for the press. Next year we will see more products come out and the availability dates for those devices will be much sooner afterward. In the meantime, CTIA 2011 has helped us get geared up for the best that phones and tablets will have to offer over this Summer. It’s going to be an exciting ride, folks — hope you join us!


Author: Brad Molen

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