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Corporate Drama Takes Center Stage at Wireless Trade Show

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NEW YORK (Dow Jones) Corporate drama, and not services or the latest handset, will likely dominate the conversations at this year's CTIA Wireless industry trade show.

The event, which kicks off on Tuesday in Las Vegas, typically struggles to get out of the shadow of the much larger World Mobile Congress, which was held in Barcelona in February. But this year is different. A lot of eyes will be on Sprint Nextel and new Chief Executive Dan Hesse to make a splash at the show. Motorola, meanwhile, will make its appearance less than a week after announcing a planned spin off of its handset business.

Sprint and Motorola appear to be taking two different tracks. Hesse will be a keynote speaker, and he is expected to comment on the troubled wireless carrier's WiMax network and possibly unveil a high-profile handset in a bid to quiet his company's negative buzz.

Motorola, however, is likely taking a more subdued approach, and Thursday quietly held its CTIA preview amid the noise of the planned business separation.

Sprint has been working on a deal to secure funding and support from U.S. cable providers Comcast, Time Warner Cable and privately held Cox Communications for its WiMax business, which it wants to jointly run with Clearwire, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Timing is crucial. Hesse wants to lock up the deal before the show so he has something significant he can unveil in his speech. But whether that will happen is still unclear. Some have doubted the parties' ability to lock the deal down.

"We would venture an educated guess that a Sprint/Clearwire deal will not be wrapped up in time for Hesse's CTIA keynote speech next Tuesday, which unfortunately will leave him in the unenviable position of talking about the current state of his company," said Walter Piecyk, an analyst at Pali Research.

Motorola Silent

With all the news Motorola made this week, the flagging handset maker will likely make little noise next week at CTIA.

"They're going to be absolutely quiet," said Bill Choi, an analyst at Jefferies & Co.

Motorola, having seen the slate of products by rivals Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, scrapped its slate of products earlier this year, resulting in a disappointing showing at Mobile World Congress, Choi said, adding he expects little more at CTIA.

A stronger product line-up will likely be unveiled in the Fall, Choi said.

Motorola is struggling with a lack of direction as the company attempts to find a new chief executive for its handset division.

Other Hot Topics

Beyond talk of the struggles of the two major players in the industry, people will be talking about the different mobile programs, services and devices coming out this year.

While Apple doesn't attend CTIA, the influence its iPhone has over the industry is still apparent nearly a year after its debut. More devices will employ touch screens and improved Internet experiences. Rather than cramming in different features, handset makers are looking to improve their user interfaces.

With much of the next-generation networks rolled out in the U.S., the industry will push many of the long promised services.

"It's not about how fast this is, it's about what I can use it for," said Chris Staley, Nokia's vice president of sales for the Xohm account, which is Sprint's WiMax network.

Nokia has been talking with carriers to provide handsets customized for the U.S. market, a practice it had shunned in favor of bringing the same handsets across all of its markets. The world's largest handset maker isn't expected to bring out any major new devices at the show.

Features such as mobile video and games will be also hot topics at the show. Electronic Arts's mobile devices unit and Glu Mobileare expected to unveil carrier and game announcements. AT&T said late Thursday that it would launch its mobile TV service in May.

On the hardware side, a lot of companies will be pushing their WiMax products, despite the uncertainty surrounding the technology. WiMax, which is a long-range version of Wi-Fi, give companies such as chip supplier Beceem Communications Inc. a chance to tout their products.

Another area of focus is femtocell technology. Femtocells are small boxes that can be used to boost the cellular reception in a limited area, such as a home.

"It'll rank up there as one of the key innovations people will be talking about," said Hassan Ahmed, chief executive of Sonus Networks. A year ago, the company acquired a startup to get into the business. "In the future, we will see a totally different network than what's been built."

-By Roger Cheng, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-2020; roger.cheng@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

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