We're seated in the auditorium for CTIA Wireless 2011's
first keynote session, featuring FCC chairman Julius Genachowski -- who's frequented CTIAs in years past -- along with the bosses of Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, and Sprint. Needless to say, these are a bunch of heavy hitters about to take the stage... and we're curious whether they'll be saying a peep about AT&T's planned acquisition of T-Mobile USA. Tune in after the break!
10:29AM We're breaking to head over to Samsung -- back in a bit!
10:28AM Jim to de la Vega: "Facebook -- friend or foe?" de la Vega: "Friend." Jim: "But what if they hook up with, say, a LightSquared and go against you?" de la Vega: "Then frienemy."
10:27AM Jim: "Thank you for being cordial about this. We can't skirt the issue -- it's a front-page story in every paper."
10:26AM Hesse to de la Vega: "I thought you and T-Mobile already had 4G?" He smiles and pats de la Vega -- we're loving the digs here.
10:25AM de la Vega is defending the T-Mobile acquisition -- same arguments as usual. "We'll bring LTE to 95 percent of the population."
10:24AM Jim: "Have you lost customers of any speakable amount since Verizon started selling the iPhone?" de la Vega: "We're not through the first quarter, so we can't comment on that." Jim: "Well, it's just a couple of us here." de la Vega: "Well, can I do it in Spanish then?" Laughter; one person in the audience loudly said "yes, you lost customers."
10:23AM Hesse's talking about subsidies increasing as devices get more powerful. "We're going to try, of course -- I think all of us -- to pass that cost onto the end user." Wait, what? We think he's referring to higher ARPUs that come from smartphone users, but that was a brutal (if not shareholder-friendly) way to put it.
10:19AM Hesse: "You're going to see flexible displays -- phones that will expand into a tablet-like experience." We've been hearing this for years... we hope he's finally right.
10:16AM Jim to Hesse: "I get very angry when my phone freezes. Who's at fault? Why do things freeze?" Hesse: "Because you have Verizon." Sick burn!
10:15AM Jim: "Did you look at buying T-Mobile and pass because of regulatory concerns?" Mead: "We didn't look at that."
10:15AM Mead: "We feel very good about our spectrum position. We'll keep a close eye on things... there may be some interests on a market by market basis."
10:14AM "Dan [Mead], do you have a dog in this hunt?" Nervous laughter from the audience. Great dynamic here.
10:14AM Hesse: "I do have concerns that it'd stifle innovation [with 74 percent of spectrum] in the hands of just two." Some applause.
10:13AM "Dan Hesse, do you agree with that?" "Well, you know, my opinion doesn't matter. I think the FCC, the DOJ..." Awkward pause. Big laughter from the audience!
10:12AM de la Vega's talking about the role of the T-Mobile acquisition in the need for additional spectrum. "I think what you saw on Sunday helps to alleviate the spectrum exhaustion that both AT&T and T-Mobile face."
10:11AM "I don't want to worry about getting billed for overage. But the points Dan [Mead] made are very real. Right now we're maintaining our unlimited position."
10:11AM "What about you, Dan? Will you go to metering?" "Maybe, maybe not. When you look at the broadband at home, it's not metered." Not quite true with AT&T DSL anymore!
10:10AM "Why is it that I have to subsidize people that are downloading movies every night?" Mead: "Right now, we're out there with unlimited data plans. That's been very important to foster growth. But the whole industry is looking at whether there should be caps -- whether there should be metered billing. Like your water bill at home, you pay for what you use."
10:07AM Hesse: "I have to give my competitor and Apple some credit here... I think the iPhone phenomenon really started it. Google got into the act with Android very quickly, roughly in three years, the US has come full circle to be number one again in 4G."
10:06AM "Why are we so far behind other countries?" Mead: "That's a myth. We are not behind -- we are leading. When you look at the ecosystem that's emerging for 4G in particular, this is the most robust network in the world. We're very proud of this LTE network."
10:05AM Hesse: "Our industry contributed" to what happened in Egypt. de la Vega: "I think that mobility creates democracy, Jim."
10:03AM "So... do you guys hate each other?" "You saw us shake hands!"
10:03AM That got ZERO laughs, by the way.
10:03AM In introducing Mead: "Verizon Wireless, America's largest... whoops, out of date!"
10:03AM Here comes CNBC's Jim Cramer along with Ralph de la Vega, Dan Hesse, and Dan Mead of AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, respectively.
10:01AM Largent's talking about NTT DoCoMo -- they'd planned to exhibit here, but obviously those plans have changed. He's encouraging everyone to donate to the Red Cross' efforts.
9:59AM CTIA president Steve Largent is out.
9:59AM And he's off!
9:58AM $30 billion in spectrum translates roughly to $300 billion in consumer benefit, he says.
9:56AM He says voluntary auctions of broadcast spectrum could haul in $30 billion. "Not pocket change."
9:55AM Of course, new spectrum is still a priority for the FCC, but it's getting clearer that even a best-case licensing scenario won't free up enough to keep pace with data growth.
9:55AM Interesting -- this might be the strongest language we've heard Julius use in a speech to promote spectrum solutions that don't involve freeing up new spectrum: dynamic spectrum sharing, femtocells, so on.
9:52AM Next, streamlining rules for tower deployment and refurbishment for next-gen wireless services.
9:51AM A couple other biggies on the FCC's plate: roaming agreements (which we're sure rural carriers are pleased to hear) and next-generation 911 services -- texting, sending pictures and video to 911 call centers.
9:50AM He's still skirting parts of the net neutrality debate here by saying that the FCC's open internet rules passed last December "recognize the differences" between landline and mobile networks.
9:47AM "Spectrum is the oxygen that allows all of these mobile applications to breathe." You stole Dan's line, Julius!
9:46AM He's throwing out a bunch of figures emphasizing the explosive growth of the smartphone app ecosystem -- needless to say, they're all designed to bolster his case for more spectrum.
9:44AM "With mobile broadband, children can replace 50-pound backpacks" with digital textbooks.
9:44AM "With the emergence of machine-to-machine technology, pretty much everything can become connected."
9:43AM He's talking about a "virtuous cycle of innovation" between apps, services, and networks -- we've definitely heard that line before.
9:42AM "To some, it was a surprise that our Broadband Plan included major sections on mobile broadband."
9:41AM Genachowski's taking an interesting perspective here: as the "legacy" leader in technology, the US is more encumbered from adapting to new disruptive technologies than other countries approaching ubiquitous broadband with a "whiteboard" approach.
9:38AM "It's clear that America's global competitors aren't standing still. [American] leadership isn't a birthright -- it needs to be earned by every generation."
9:38AM "Too man Americans have no broadband access at all." Rural and senior communities have particularly low adoption rates.
9:37AM Whoa, he just namechecked 5G! Let us get some solid 4G first, alright, man?
9:36AM "Many [smartphones] have more computing power than NASA's lunar lander."
9:35AM Needless to say, Julius is going to focus on spectrum allocation -- why it's important, and why it's needed right now.
9:35AM "Broadband is no longer a luxury -- it's an essential platform."
9:34AM "I know everyone is talking about the transaction that was just announced -- I'm sure you can understand I'm not going to comment on that." Aww!
9:34AM Genachowski: "It's like Tomorrowland has been moved from the Magic Kingdom to the Orange County Convention Center."
9:32AM And Dan's wrapping up -- he's introducing FCC chair Julius Genachowski.
9:31AM "I must give props to this administration and this FCC in that they've made spectrum allocation a top priority."
9:30AM "Spectrum is the oxygen that gives our industry life and growth." Yep, here comes the boilerplate spectrum allocation pitch (not that we're complaining -- it's a really important topic).
9:28AM By January of next year, all American phones will use micro-USB as the standard charging interface. That actually got applause. "I know, that's been a pet peeve of mine for a long time."
9:27AM Talking about Sprint's and CTIA's green efforts -- recycling and buy-back programs are in full effect, regardless of manufacturer or carrier of the device you're trying to flip.
9:26AM "Wireless smart grids aren't just a concept, they're here now." Lots of talk about machine-to-machine communication here -- it's pretty clear that carriers are looking to vertical markets for new revenue sources as the consumer side starts to saturate.
9:23AM Here's another little Sprint plug -- Dan's talking about the carrier's Android app for locking out phones when they're traveling greater than 10 miles an hour.
9:23AM "Distracted driving, and improving the environment, are areas where everyone seems to agree in principle that more needs to be done. I'm pleased to say that the CTIA is taking the lead in these areas."
9:21AM "The US is expected to be the leading country for in-car internet access over the next six years."
9:21AM Healthcare is a big focus for wireless -- Dan's talking about Sprint's partnership announcement at HIMSS recently, a big healthcare informatics show.
9:19AM "Now we're upgrading to 4G using both the LTE and WiMAX standards." We're pretty sure he's referring to the US market as a whole, not Sprint -- but it's still funny to hear him say. And of course, the latest rumors have Sprint pegged for an LTE deployment anyhow.
9:18AM Dan's generally doing a pretty good job acting the part as CTIA chairman as opposed to Sprint CEO here -- relatively few mentions of Sprint in this opening address.
9:17AM 80 million tablet shipments projected in 2012.
9:15AM Quoting an IBM study: "The cellphone is no longer a gadget; it's what IT is going to become."
9:14AM Ah, very slick, Dan -- he just slipped in a plug for Sprint ID while talking up the explosion in mobile apps.
9:13AM "In the fourth quarter of 2010, Google's Android OS became the fastest growing smartphone platform in the world. Android now claims 29 percent of the market compared with 27 percent for both RIM's OS and Apple's OS." He's praising North America's leadership in smartphone platform development.
9:11AM Hesse's praising the US' leadership in 4G services -- a stark contrast to Europe's leadership in 2G and Japan's in 3G.
9:10AM He's praising NTT DoCoMo's amazing response to the earthquake -- just 1,000 cell sites are still down.
9:08AM Dan's kicking this off by telling a few groaners. "All kidding aside, it's a pleasure for me to be here."
9:07AM Here comes CTIA chairman (and Sprint CEO) Dan Hesse!
9:06AM Here we go!
9:05AM For those wondering, they've got Robyn playing right now with the bass turned WAY up. No, not playing live. We wish.
9:02AM Sorry that the comments aren't enabled, folks -- we're working on it!
8:57AM They're literally playing Angry Birds on the jumbotrons right now. Can this game be escaped?