Ina Fried

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Wireless Carrier Execs Trade Jabs, but Land No Major Punches

Six months ago, the heads of Verizon, AT&T and Sprint shared a stage just hours after AT&T announced its plans to buy T-Mobile USA. That discussion, moderated by Jim Cramer, was a pretty fun hour of theater.

At the fall CTIA show on Tuesday, the same executives were assembled, but things weren’t nearly as fun. First of all, there was no Mr. Boo-ya. More importantly, the executives appeared one after the other, rather than agreeing to again share a stage.

The result was more stump speeches than discourse.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who is also the chairman of the CTIA, kicked things off with a talk largely focused on environmental issues, noting that the industry trade group plans later today to announce new guidelines for product reuse, recycling and packaging.

“We’re making real progress,” Hesse said. He also noted that it was cellphones that transmitted dramatic imagery from the Middle East as governments changed, and wireless phones that helped after natural disasters in the U.S. and around the globe.

Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, focused on some of the investments his company has made, including $80 million to open research “foundries” in Palo Alto, Calif.; Plano, Texas; and Israel.

The speeches weren’t totally devoid of zingers. Hesse did note that de la Vega looks a lot like Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, who was also an actor. Speaking after Hesse, de la Vega noted the observation came from Hesse, “a guy who is the best actor in wireless we have today.”

De la Vega was followed by Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead.

Like de la Vega, Mead spoke about his company’s investment in facilities that help network equipment makers, operating system creators and app developers to collaborate. Verizon opened an application center in San Francisco earlier this year, following on the heels of an earlier 4G LTE center in Waltham, Mass.

Mead also spoke about the impact the industry has had on society in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, when, he said, the wireless business established itself as a key aid to first responders in the aftermath of crises.

“Since that time, we’ve responded to hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, helping people to cope,” Mead said. “We have rescued hikers, boaters and others who have lost their way. We have used our technology for the greater good again and again.”

Although Mead and others talked about the competitiveness of the industry, Tuesday was more lovefest than slugfest.

“Collaboration has played and will continue to play a major role in our success,” Mead said.

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