We've barely unpacked our bags from GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, and we're on the road again to Las Vegas for CTIA Wireless, the U.S. trade show and conference held every spring where the biggest and most influential players in the U.S. mobile market gather.
While there will be some cell phones announced at this year's show, most of the excitement will center on software applications and the virtual storefronts that are popping up to distribute these new applications. Since the success of Apple's App Store, which provides easy access to third-party applications for iPhones, other companies have jumped on the bandwagon announcing their own application stores.
Everyone from Google to Microsoft to Nokia to Research In Motion has announced plans for a new application store. And at this year's CTIA, some of these new app stores will come to life. RIM is expected to announce that its BlackBerry AppWorld is open for business, and Microsoft will start showing off its Marketplace for the first time.
But application markets aren't the only thing that will be talked about. Carriers like Verizon and Clearwire will also be touting faster broadband wireless networks that will help make these applications a reality. And of course handset makers will be showing off new products, some of which have already been announced, such as the Palm Pre.
But this year's spring CTIA Wireless show will likely be smaller than in years past. The economic downturn has taken its toll on the mobile market. Even Nokia, the world's largest and strongest maker of cell phones, has slashed expectations for 2009. And the company has already begun laying off employees and closing facilities to cut costs.
Still, mobile is hot. And most experts agree that even though the overall cell phone market won't grow as quickly as it has in years past, it is one of the brightest spots on the technology landscape for the future. And the new technologies and services developed and shown off today will pave the way toward recovery in the future.
To keep you informed of all the breaking news and trends at this year's CTIA, CNET will have full coverage of the show with reporters and editors from CNET News, CNET Reviews, and CNET Downloads. So check out our coverage all week on the special CTIA CNET Reviews page.
Here's a snapshot of what we expect to see:
The biggest news of the week will likely come from Research in Motion. The company, which makes the popular BlackBerry smartphone, is expected to introduce both an applications storefront and a mobile video-download service for its newer BlackBerry devices. RIM, the preferred smartphone of the suit-and-tie crowd, has increasingly courted consumers over the past year with new phones like the Pearl and the Storm. But throwing the BlackBerry wide-open to consumer-oriented developers could help enhance its standing against Apple's iPhone.
Microsoft is also expected to show off its Windows Marketplace for Mobile, its version of the mobile computing application store. Microsoft announced the new mobile application store at Mobile World Congress in February. And now it plans to show off the product at the show with a special demonstration during a keynote address on Thursday.
Last year, the company unveiled Windows Mobile 6.1 in Las Vegas, and it announced tweaks to the software at MWC earlier this year with Windows Mobile 6.5. But the broader overhaul of the software promised in Windows Mobile 7 still appears pretty far off in the distance.
Even though Apple won't be at CTIA, there will be plenty of iPhone applications announced and demonstrated at the show. Skype has already taken the wraps off its new Skype for iPhone app. And other apps are sure to be highlighted and demonstrated, such as MobiTV's new iPhone application.
Networks: The faster, the better
Even though carriers are still finding ways to monetize their newly built 3G wireless networks, they're already looking toward the future. Verizon chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg will take the stage on Wednesday, and he's expected to tout the company's impending 4G wireless network and the billions of dollars it's invested in its fiber-optic landline network. Verizon's CTO Dick Lynch dished some of the details on the new 4G network, which is expected to launch in 2010, when he spoke in Barcelona last month.
Benjamin Wolff, co-chairman of Clearwire, is also taking the stage this week at CTIA. Clearwire, which is using wireless assets from Sprint Nextel to build a 4G nationwide network using WiMax technology, is also expected to talk more about its plans to provide wireless broadband coverage to 120 million people by the end of 2010.
Robert Dotson, CEO of T-Mobile USA, the smallest of the four major cell phone operators, will also be delivering a keynote speech on Wednesday that is likely to provide an update on the company's rollout of its 3G network. And AT&T's head of wireless, Ralph De La Vega, will meet with reporters on Thursday. While it's not yet known what he will talk about, there could be an update on the company's technology upgrade to a faster network. Last year, De La Vega said AT&T would be offering network speeds of 20 Mbps over its current network infrastructure as it upgrades to newer versions of HSPA.
Rumors are building that Google's Android group might try to steal a little of the CTIA thunder, in partnership with HTC. HTC built the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, and has committed to releasing additional phones. One of those might be arriving soon, especially now that the HTC Magic has passed the FCC's certification tests, and could be announced this week. HTC announced the Magic for European markets at the Mobile World Congress in February. Perhaps a new Android phone will be announced by T-Mobile's Dotson on Wednesday during his keynote speech.
Smartphone maker Palm is not attending CTIA, but the company's hotly anticipated Palm Pre, which was announced in Las Vegas at CES in January, will be at Sprint Nextel's special "lounge," where the carrier will be showing off the device to press and a few other special guests.
Details on pricing and availability aren't expected at the show, but Palm fans are crossing their fingers for some news. The company could have something to say on Wednesday, when Palm's Michael Abbott will make an appearance at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.
AT&T will also be showing off six new handsets for its network that are geared toward data-centric consumers. These devices offer an array of devices with full keypads and touch screens. They include models from LG and three from Samsung, such as the Propel Pro. AT&T is also going to be offering Nokia's ultra-thin E71x, which is very popular in Europe. This is one of the first high-end Nokia devices available in the U.S. market and could help Nokia build a bigger toe-hold in the U.S. market.