CTIA wireless trade show kicks off in Las Vegas

April 1, 2008, 8:45 PM UTC

By Michal Lev-Ram

LAS VEGAS — The CTIA wireless trade show kicked off Tuesday morning with a slew of keynote speeches by Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, Virgin Mobile founder Richard Branson and Robert Bach, president of Microsoft’s (MSFT) entertainment and devices division.

The Las Vegas-based wireless confab attracts more than 1,000 companies – including phone manufacturers, chip makers and mobile operators – and an estimated 40,000 show-goers.

This year’s event will likely center on the advent of so-called “open” networks, 4G technology and the continued blurring of the lines between consumer and business devices.

Tuesday’s star-studded speeches focused on all of these issues, and even managed to touch on the future of space tourism. The past year has been a big one for the wireless industry, with Apple’s disruptive iPhone launch, the FCC spectrum auction and the move towards more open networks.

FCC chairman Martin spoke about the recently-closed government spectrum auction, which raised nearly $20 billion. A portion of those airwaves will be used for a new network that will allow access to any device or service. Martin said that although the new conditions were initially opposed by the industry, a network that is more open to devices and applications can “help foster innovation and give consumers freedom.”

Virgin’s Branson shared his thoughts on Virgin’s nontraditional way of doing business and called the current economic downturn a “cycle that will turn around again.” The colorful entrepreneur also talked about climate change and his plans to send several dozen people (and animals and plant seeds) in a “Noah’s ark” mission to Mars. And yes, he also mentioned his company’s small mobile operator, Virgin Mobile.

Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division announced an update to the company’s Windows Mobile operating system for cell phones. The enhanced version aims to make finding applications on the phone easier and faster for consumers, and is part of Microsoft Window’s attempt to shed its image as a business-centric operating system.

Also on Tuesday, the CTIA released new industry survey results showing there are now 255 million subscribers in the United States, which means about 84% of the total U.S. population now owns a cell phone.