FRAMINGHAM, 18 MARCH 2011 - On the eve of the U.S. cellular industry's biggest trade show, AT&T triggered a shockwave by announcing it will buy the No. 4 mobile carrier, T-Mobile USA, for $39 billion.
The deal, which still faces regulatory approval, is sure to be a major topic at CTIA 2011 this week in Orlando. AT&T executives will face a barrage of questions, scepticism, and criticism. But judging from the fact that the company is already cancelling scheduled meetings with reporters, the company line may simply be to repeat reassuring talking points while stonewalling questions about what the deal really means.
The conference and exhibit, at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center, focuses on wireless and converged communications, wireless broadband, and the mobile Web. It's sponsored by CTIA, an international trade group of wireless carriers, their suppliers, and providers of wireless services and products, both hardware and software.
Announcements are expected to include new mobile devices that run on LTE or WiMAX networks, LTE expansions, new compact base stations (called picocells) to improve wireless coverage and capacity for both 3G and LTE networks.
Samsung is widely expected to unveil a new Galaxy Tab model. Speculation is that it will offer a 8.9-inch screen, fitting between the first one, at 7 inches, and the recently announced 10.2-inch model.
Sprint Nextel appears poised to roll out three high-end, Android-based mobile devices. They are reportedly two smartphones -- the Samsung Nexus S 4G, incorporating a WiMAX radio, and HTC's EVO 3D, adding a 3D screen to the EVO phone -- and a tablet, the HTC EVO View, which is supposed to be the HTC Flyer for CDMA networks.
Earlier this year, Virginia-based LightSquared got a green light from the FCC to launch a nationwide wholesale wireless network, combining LTE and satellite links. The company's chairman and CEO, Sanjiv Ahuja, has a Wednesday keynote at CTIA where many expect him to announce a customer, a major U.S. carrier. Some reports say the customer will be Sprint Nextel.
One wild card event may be the Tuesday, March 22, roundtable featuring the chief executives of the four biggest wireless carriers -- Ralph de la Vega of AT&T, Dan Hesse of Sprint, Philipp Humm of T-Mobile USA, and Dan Mead of Verizon Wireless. The panel will be moderated by the somewhat immoderate CNBC personality Jim Cramer.
One possible revelation from this group is real innovation in cellular data plans, according to FierceWireless. One possible change is more variety in tiered data plans. The Web site quotes Current Analysis analyst Maidy Whitesell: "Expect to see a wider variety of tiered data plans with a higher number of included gigabytes. The most likely high-end data plan would include 10 GB instead of 5 GB (which is most common today). Verizon Wireless already announced a 10 GB plan for LTE."
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