Bringing Voice, Data Together

Over a late night Saturday feast last week, I mentioned to a friend that it was a really slow news week on the wireless industry front. It was odd, considering round two of CTIA 2008, which is focused on data, including IT and entertainment, was held the previous week in San Francisco. Plus, I was having the conversation with someone who likes to tell me that without him, I’d have nothing to buy. (He’s in shipping logistics, as in long-haul, 18-wheelers). Nevertheless, it seems as if it was a well-placed vent because it just so happens one of his really good friends, and now a good friend of mine, is a professional writer who covers the wireless industry.

And that friend sent a well-timed text that yielded a response confirming my suspicions. In 160 characters of pure truth, the text message was simple. CTIA, which holds a conference earlier in the year focused on voice, no longer needs two shows a year.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now: the separation of voice and data no longer makes sense. The script has gone from a small font in light grey to big, black block letters. Words that when combined actually spell out big shifts in revenue and subscriber data for the first half of this year.

Ahead of last week’s show, CTIA released highlights from its latest survey that CTIA CEO Steve Largent said proved “that the wireless service in today’s marketplace means so much more to American consumers than just voice-calls.”

He continued, “More and more people are using wireless devices to access the Internet, take photos, get directions, watch videos, download music and send text messages. But this is just the beginning. When wireless customers want even more from their handsets and networks, the industry will continue to respond, evolve, innovate, and deliver to meet this growing demand.”

Demand is currently driven by a 20 million year-over-year increase in subscribers, bringing the June 2008 total number of U.S. subscribers to 262 million. Additionally, the first half of this year saw a 40 percent increase in wireless data service revenue. The total through June 2008 reached $14.8 billion — a number that represents 20 percent of all wireless service revenue, that is, nonvoice services. Text messaging continues to set industry records domestically. This survey finds that on average 2.5 billion messages a day were sent in June, for a total of 75 billion for the month. In June 2007, the number of total messages was 28.8 billion, making June 2008 a 160 percent increase over June 2007.

Voice is still a primary element of the industry today and wasn’t left out of the survey highlights. Domestic subscribers racked up 1.12 trillion minutes in the first half of the year, an increase of 10.9 percent over the first half of 2007. This accounts for $72 billion in revenue from January through June 2008.

The question is, does voice deserve a show of its own?

The carriers have actually answered that for the industry. In reading the wires during the show (I opt for only one show a year if I can help it), I caught a great recap of the Wednesday carrier roundtable from FierceWireless. Normally, the carrier roundtables don’t reveal anything of interest, but in this case the focus was open networks. While AT&T was absent, I think we all know who’s leading them by the nose on this topic. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon all commented on what they envision open to mean. Again, no one revealed anything that deviates from what we suspected. Verizon advocated open networks based on devices, while Sprint and T-Mobile are looking at applications. But there’s progress in the fact that they were talking about this issue in the first place. That progress might mean one day we only have to hit either Vegas or San Francisco to fulfill our annual CTIA duties.

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