During a morning that featured far less acrimony than the last time they got together in March, the CEOs of three of the leading wireless companies in the U.S. took the CTIA stage to say very little of substance regarding the pivotal events that will define the next year of wireless. Instead, they chose to focus on the environment, innovation, and collaboration, saving a little room for a few jokes.
The CTIA is probably the most buttoned-down industry across the technology spectrum, constantly on message about the need for greater wireless spectrum over which to deliver voice and data services. Sprint’s Dan Hesse, AT&T’s Ralph De La Vega, and Verizon’s Dan Mead did little to change that impression Tuesday, delivering separate addresses rather than interacting together on stage the way they did in March, two days after AT&T (NYSE: T) announced its $39 billion bid for T-Mobile.
Only veiled references to that controversial deal were aired during the morning’s presentation, with Hesse comparing De La Vega to Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth (the men do share a distinctive mustache). De La Vega fired back moments later when he took the stage, noting that Booth was an actor and declaring that Hesse was “the best actor we have in wireless today,” likely a reference to Hesse’s performances before congressional committees and in speeches bemoaning the effects that a combined AT&T/T-Mobile would have on the wireless industry.
But that was otherwise it for the fireworks.
Hesse, who has been chairman of the CTIA for the past year, talked about the industry’s commitment toward making more environmentally friendly devices and services as well as applications that could help reduce texting-while-driving. De La Vega pointed out how AT&T has been opening offices in new areas for the company, such as Silicon Valley, Texas, and Israel, in hopes of tapping into centers of innovative technology development. And Mead talked about how wireless services can aid first responders in disaster situations and provide opportunities for the elderly or disabled to participate more in civic activities.
Unlike the March conference, this particular edition of CTIA is focused on business use of wireless technology, which De La Vega noted is becoming a larger and larger portion of the average company’s IT budget as they shift from the PC era to the post-PC era. They also acknowledged the rise of what’s being called “machine to machine” wireless connections, perhaps more popularly known as “the Internet of things.”
Concepts such as connected refrigerators have been talked about forever, but could actually be gaining steam as the technology required becomes more realistic to install and buy. Expect to hear more from wireless carriers about how they are connecting more than phones and tablets over the next year.
As expected, CTIA President Steve Largent kicked off the morning session with a tribute to Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) co-founder Steve Jobs, who died last week after having turned the wireless industry upside down with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. “The likes of Steve Jobs come along rarely, and he will be greatly missed,” Largent said.