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CTIA 2013 preview: Spring show quietly fades away

Verizon Wireless, Kyocera, and a few celebrities headline what is expected to be a lackluster final conference.

CTIA and its final spring show.
Roger Cheng/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- When Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Lopez are the biggest draws for a technology show, there's a problem.

The CTIA Wireless trade group's spring show officially kicks off for the last time on Tuesday. It marks an unceremonious end to the conference, which next year will merge with its sister show in the fall to better align itself with the holiday shopping season.

While CTIA still touts itself as the largest wireless show in North America, its influence and importance have waned in the last few years. CTIA has always had the misfortune of following at the one-two punch of the Consumer Electronics Show -- which more recently has focused increasingly on mobile -- and Mobile World Congress, a massive conference held in Barcelona, Spain.

By the time CTIA rolls around, hardly any announcements are left for the show. Sure, CTIA has been the platform for major unveilings in the past. But that has certainly changed, particularly as big companies such as Samsung and HTC have opted to hold their own events. The 35,000 to 40,000 attendees -- roughly the same as last year's show -- aren't likely to be blown away by any of the news from the show.

Verizon Wireless is the only major industry player opting to hold a press conference at the show. While many had suspected the carrier would use the show to launch the Lumia 928, it confirmed the phone through a tweet in a quiet announcement earlier this month.

Verizon could unveil a new service or connected device, but it's uncertain at this point. The carrier has been mum on any details ahead of the conference.

Sprint Nextel and Kyocera are expected to have their own announcements, although Sprint has already warned that it won't be unveiling any flagship products. HTC is expected to have a minimal presence, and will continue to tout its One smartphone. Likewise, LG also will have a minimal presence having just launched its Optimus G Pro with AT&T.

Apple has traditionally shunned all trade shows. Samsung Electronics, which typically has a major presence at the various technology conferences, pulled out of the show last year but had an unofficial presence away from the conference venue. This year, it appears as if Samsung may not be there at all.

As such, it could be a chance for smaller companies, accessory makers, service providers, and emerging technologies to make some waves.

The last day of the show typically features a big-name keynote speaker. This year, it's actor Kutcher, whose connections to technology include his various investment in Silicon Valley startups and his role as Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic, "Jobs."

While CTIA may lack the heavy hitters, the conference remains a valuable venue for industry executives, developers, and other players to connect with each other. It's also a chance for retailers to check out products that are in the works for later in the year.

One overriding theme for the show will be the switch to an all Internet-based network, which is what 4G LTE is enabling the wireless carriers to do. Companies are springing up to handle that transition, and CTIA is an attractive venue for them to show off their wares. Other themes will be cybersecurity and privacy, according to Rob Mesirow, vice president of operations for CTIA.

While CTIA is a show based in the U.S., it has worked to show off more of an international flavor in recent years. The keynote presentations this year include Spain's Telefonica, Germany's Deutsche Telekom, and Finland's Rovio.

Also expected to draw show attendees will be a panel to discuss the industry's attempt to woo the Hispanic market, featuring singer and actress Jennifer Lopez and TV personality Mario Lopez.

As always, the CNET team will be there in force to cover the few big announcements and uncover the hidden nuggets from the conference. Check back in for our comprehensive coverage of the final CTIA spring show.