Three Things to Watch at CTIA Wireless

Smartphones and tablets will be the headliners at the 2011 CTIA Wirelessshow in Orlando, where the wireless industry convenes to chart its future the week of March 21. Here are three things to watch for during the week:

The Blackberry Playbook Tablet PC
Source: RIM
The Blackberry Playbook Tablet PC

Data Plans Rule

Remember when phones were primarily about voice calls? Seems like a long time ago. Nowadays, carriers are obsessed with data plans, and their ability to drive new revenue and attract new customers.

That's the story of the iPhone revolution, after all: the thing hasn't won awards for call quality, but it fetches Apple an average of about $650 per phone because customers love what they can do with it online.

From the opening keynote, look for data plans to take center stage.

Carrier chieftains will talk about the rollout of LTE and its effect on subscribers, and about the enormous growth potential of post-PC devices like tablets and e-readers. They might even touch on the concept of a new type of data plan that covers multiple devices, so you won't need separate lines for your phone, tablet and e-reader.

Tablet Wars

Apple's iPad 2 is sure to loom large over CTIA, even though Apple itself doesn't attend these kinds of shindigs. The reason the iPad is so important? The DNA of the iPad is similar to a phone, given its ARM-based processor, NAND flash storage, iOS software and touchscreen interface.

CNBC - Ctia Wireless 2011- The Wireless Connection
CNBC - Ctia Wireless 2011- The Wireless Connection

But there are increasing signs that it and other tabletsthreaten the core PC market, long a stronghold of companies like Intel, Microsoft, Dell and HP.

If the iPad and its ilk succeed in chipping away at PC growth, it could open new opportunities for the phone ecosystem, which includes a lot of the folks who attend CTIA.

Profit Share

This might not be a major theme of the show, but it should be: Smartphone profits. Sure, a lot of attention flows to Google's Android because so many handset makers are adopting the free OS. But lost in all that is the fact that Apple's iOS growth, while not quite as torrid, is a whole lot more profitable.

Google recently announced that it has reached a $1 billion annual run rate on mobile advertising, which is certainly impressive.

But consider this: Apple sold 16.2 million iPhones in the holiday quarter and 7.3 million iPads, all with average selling prices north of $600. That's well over $14 billion in revenue in one quarter. More than $4 billion of that is profit.

Watch CNBC's coverage of the 2011 CTIA Wireless convention on Tuesday, March 22 and Wednesday, March 23 from Orlando, Fla. Technology correspondent Jon Fortt will report live from the convention floor, Jim Cramer will host a special edition of "Mad Money" on Tuesday at 6pm ET, and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera will co-anchor "Power Lunch" from the event on Wednesday at 1pm ET.