SAN FRANCISCO--New 4G networks and cool wireless gadgets like the iPad aren't just for playing games and watching movies, companies large and small are looking for ways to leverage this technology to make it work for their businesses.
While many technology trends have traditionally flowed from the corporate environment into the consumer market (think e-mail and voicemail as just two examples), many of the latest trends in mobility over the past few years have originated for consumers.
The Apple iPhone and Google Android phones, and the mobile app craze that has followed, have predominately been focused on meeting the needs of consumers. The new iPad, which seems to have ignited a brand new category of products known as tablets, is also geared toward consumers. Even the push for 4G networks has predominantly been marketed as a way to feed the growing frenzy of consumers using smartphones.
Now things are starting to change. Businesses are also looking for ways to leverage the technology and cool new gadgets to make their workers more efficient and productive.
This focus on the "enterprise" will be the biggest trend at the 2010 CTIA Enterprise & Applications trade show here this week. The trade show, which is this wireless trade group's second major event of the year, will officially begin Wednesday, October 6, and run through Friday, October 8. Preshow events will be happening here at the Moscone Center on Tuesday, October 5.
From the health care industry to the automotive industry, businesses are looking for new ways to use wireless technology. No longer are companies simply offering BlackBerry devices so road warriors can check e-mail on the go.
Now companies are looking at ways to use 3G and 4G networks to do more with their resources. They are thinking about how best to use mobile Web apps. And they're even looking at slick new devices, such as tablets.
CTIA has set up this fall trade show to capitalize on the shifting trend toward businesses, and it has packed the agenda with keynote speeches from a wide range of companies, including Sybase, Western Union, UPS, Health South, and Ford Motor.
Even the traditional wireless operators, who typically serve as the cornerstone of the keynote addresses at CTIA trade shows, will put a business spin on their speeches. For example, Verizon COO Lowell McAdam will take the stage with a session titled "Mobile Commerce, Smart Energy and LTE: the Transformative Next-Generation Network."
Verizon Wireless has been building its 4G wireless network using a technology called LTE. Executives have said over and over that the company will be ready to launch the service in 25 to 30 markets by the end of the year. With only a few months left in the year, and no news of deployments, it's likely McAdam will dish more details about the deployment of the network. Hopefully, he'll finally offer some information about pricing.
But it's clear from the title of the talk that he will also be discussing how Verizon expects to use the 4G network to help businesses, such as energy companies, become more efficient. Verizon has already been touting its smart grid technology, particularly a product for utilities that it has developed in partnership with Qualcomm.
For wireless operators, the smart grid opportunity is all about using the 3G and 4G wireless networks to sell machine-to-machine services. For example, remote meter reading, which is a service where meters report readings directly over the smart grid, is an example of this kind of machine-to-machine communication. Smart devices on the network could also be used to ratchet down power usage when usage is low or offload power to other providers when usage is high.
AT&T's head of business services, John Stankey, will be taking the stage Friday. He's expected to talk about AT&T's mobile bar code business. Mobile bar codes allow advertisers to embed bar codes into mobile marketing. Codes can be published in a number of places: on signage, in print, on point-of-sale and outdoor displays, and even on the Web. Using AT&T's scanning technology, stores scan the code and it may link to a mobile Web page, play a video, trigger a phone call, or trigger some other experience.
There will also likely be lots of talk at CTIA about how tablet PCs can be used in the work environment. Last week, Research In Motion introduced the PlayBook, a 7-inch tablet that can fit into a coat pocket. The company is calling it "the first professional tablet." The PlayBook is designed to fit right into the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, with no changes: No new software, security, server, or data plan is needed to use it. RIM has also added some features that business types will find handy: there's HDMI video out, so you can show a presentation or a video at a meeting, and a front- and rear-facing camera to enable videoconferencing.
While RIM may be among the first to target businesses with its device, others will likely follow. And application developers will also be looking for ways to bring more business-oriented productivity apps to tablets, whether it's on the Apple iPad, the RIM PlayBook, or the many Android-based tablets expected to hit the market soon.
Here's a list of other notable press conferences and events expected at CTIA:
- Sprint Nextel's press conference on Wednesday may include the unveiling of a new product designed to make wireless "more meaningful for business."
- Nokia will be holding a developer's conference on Tuesday with AT&T. The companies recently teamed up to offer the "2010 Calling All Innovators, North America" contest to encourage developers to create applications for the new Symbian 3 mobile operating system. Nokia has also recently announced the N8 smartphone, which isn't being sold by a U.S. carrier. But it's expected to be the company's flagship phone and will likely be shown off at the show.
- Motorola is also scheduled to have a press event on Tuesday. The company hasn't said exactly what it will be discussing. Some have speculated it might announce a rumored Android-based tablet. But a couple of weeks ago, Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha indicated at an investor conference that a tablet may not be available until early 2011.
- Samsung is holding a press conference Thursday. But given that the company has already made a splash with its Galaxy S smartphone and GalaxyTab tablet, it's hard to imagine another big product announcement from the company.
I'll be covering the news from the show all week, as will my CNET Reviews colleagues, Kent German, Nicole Lee, and Jessica Dolcourt.