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Hot air permeates CTIA atmosphere

Inflatable rafts shaped like phones. E-mail alerts for golf tee times. And at least one V-neck-khaki twin set. Just another day in telecommunications-conference land.

ORLANDO, Fla.--How tough is the telecommunications industry nowadays? At the industry's biggest trade show, a lot of proud executives were on their hands and knees.

Blame the Siemens inflatable phone for one of the oddest sights of all during the three-day Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) show, attended by 35,000 wireless communications workers.

The handset maker was giving away inflatable rafts shaped like a phone, with the Siemens name emblazoned everywhere on the plastic exterior.

The line for the rafts was among the longest on the trade show floor, partly because it took about a minute for Siemens, as a courtesy, to inflate each and every phone.

But almost as long was the line a few feet away where executives got onto all fours, using their weight to help deflate them.

"I'm not sure how else I'm supposed to get this thing on the airplane," said one executive, quickly covering up a nametag.

Tie's the limit for Sky
Sky Dayton got dressed down for not dressing up.

The founder of EarthLink, who launched a new company named Boingo Wireless, took the stage at the CTIA in a black V-neck sweater and khakis, the official uniform of the dot-com set.

The only problem was this was a telephone convention, a collection of old-world business executives who feel naked without a suit and tie.

"You're kind of the laid-back, Southern California surfer type, aren't you?" asked CTIA President Tom Wheeler.

Rushing to Dayton's defense was VoiceStream Wireless President John Stanton, who joined Wheeler and Dayton on stage. He, too, wasn't wearing a tie, but he did have on a suit jacket.

"I don't have to raise money anymore; that's why I don't wear a tie," Stanton said.

The day the demo died
For a few minutes on Tuesday, the thousands of industry executives got a taste of what it's like to be a cellular customer.

Around 10 a.m., just as the second day of the CTIA show was getting started, dozens of wireless demonstrations stopped working.

The reason? The 1 million-square-foot convention center was so choked with wireless traffic that nothing got through.

Ballooning for relief
More than 1,000 exhibitors were showing such products as wireless e-mail alerts for golf tee times and a laptop that uses facial recognition software to find out who is tapping on its keys.

Then there was Space Data, an Arizona company that thinks weather balloons will help fill in the cellular dead zones that plague most carriers.

The company has a deal with the National Weather Service to add equipment--called transponders--to weather balloons that soar about 100,000 feet in the air. The transponders can be used by carriers to augment coverage areas, especially in rural zones, the company believes.