CNET is headed to New Orleans next week, home to CTIA 2012, the annual springtime congregation of cell phone makers, wireless carriers, and all manner of players in the cell phone industry.
This year, two factors signal change. First, the show is later in the calendar than ever before, presumably moved back to give phone manufacturers and others time to prep products and news after CES in January and Mobile World Congress the month after that.
Second, it's unclear if pushing back the date has encouraged the typical handset newsmaker headlines. Usually, the invitations to press events are stacked high. This time, only T-Mobile and AT&T have press events scheduled, and we're not expecting dramatic smartphone news here -- but in the fast-paced world of smartphones, anything can happen.
More and more, we're seeing carriers and phone makers host their own events rather than compete for attention at a show. Sprint and HTC introduced the HTC Evo 4G LTE this way a few weeks back, and just yesterday, Samsung made its big splash with its Galaxy S III launch event in London. RIM just wrapped its three-day developer conference, and Nokia is taking a break from handset announcements after launches at CES and MWC.
Of course, that doesn't mean that we won't see anything good. Now is exactly when we hope to get a closer look at devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC Evo 4G LTE, and Nokia 808 PureView with its 41-megapixel camera.
The rise of international
The shifting character of the show isn't lost on the CTIA organization that puts on the conference. Rob Mesirow, vice president and show director for CTIA, acknowledged the fact to CNET, stating that "older, traditional handset suppliers are going to be replaced with companies that you may not have heard of."
While HTC, Motorola, and Samsung could trickle out smaller phone and tablet announcements, relative unknowns like Plum Mobile will command significant booth space. Unnecto and Amgoo will also peddle their wares.
"We've got about a dozen new handset suppliers from Asia that are coming into the show," CTIA's Mesirow said.
In general, Mesirow and his team measured a 44 percent increase in the size of CTIA's international pavilions, where companies from Ireland to Israel will connect with clients and the press.
Fewer phones, more services
Security firms and app makers that have always packed the sidelines may step more into the light.
Companies like Dell, MasterCard, and Symantec are new this year, Mesirow said. Mobile commerce, like electronic wallets, and security offerings are gaining momentum because of increased malware threats and a growing interest in NFC, or near-field communication.
Western Union, Barnes & Noble, and cloud storage companies like Box will also make an appearance.
Keynotes stand strong
Two of CTIA's keynote sessions are sure to generate insight. The first day of the show, CNBC "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer will moderate an LTE-themed panel with the Big Four carriers' CEOs.
More exciting still for celebrity gawkers is the headliner of the wrap-up keynote speech, former President Bill Clinton. Clinton is expected to discuss how technologists fit in to the "back in the future business" missive outlined in his recent book, "Back To Work."
CNET will, of course, be on-site covering all the phones, tablets, keynotes, apps, and everything else. Keep your browser tuned to our CTIA coverage, and follow the editors for the latest from the show floor:
Follow @kentgerman Kent German, Senior Managing Editor, Mobile Devices
Follow @jdolcourt Jessica Dolcourt, Senior Editor, Mobile Devices
Follow @boliverbennett Brian Bennett, Senior Editor, Mobile Devices
Follow @lynnlaa Lynn La, Associate Editor, Mobile Devices
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Follow @maggie_reardon Maggie Reardon, Senior Writer, News
Follow @b1g1nj4p4n Seth Rosenblatt, Senior Editor, Mobile software