This year’s fall CTIA show, returning to its roots as “CTIA Enterprise & Applications 2011,” saw the introduction of dozens of innovative new products and services even without the planned launch of the next version of Android, dubbed “Ice Cream Sandwich.” While Google’s delay was in tribute to Steve Jobs’ passing, I’m sure that Steve would have been heartened to know that mobile innovation was alive and well at CTIA fall 2011.

Since I’m an “Internet of Things” junkie, I bypassed the usual slew of new handsets and tablets and headed straight for the exhibit floor’s M2M Zone. Interesting new things there included Taoglas Ltd.’s embedded “Viking” antennas that offers over 70% efficiency for all global 2G/3G/4G networks and ultra-small M2M modules from Cinterion and Telit. I was also impressed by Verizon’s “Private Applications Store for Business,” which provides a means to finally reconcile the needs of smart device users in an enterprise and corporate IT shops that simultaneously want to support their colleagues’ mobile experience and protect the company’s infrastructure and assets.

What impressed me most about this show, however, was not cool new products and services. If I had to give this show a theme, it would be “Let’s Make a Deal.” With U.S. mobile penetration swelling above 100%, the U.S. wireless industry is weathering the economic downturn with grace and in some cases, newfound humility. The companies still standing have made the adjustments to staffing levels, product lines, and business models needed to survive, and are anxious to return to growth. Entrepreneurial start-ups want to ride that tide. The U.S. wireless industry is open to new ideas, alliances, business models, and markets.

For example, a significant number of acquisitions were announced at the show, including Clover Holdings’ acquisition of Full Circle Wireless, Neustar’s buyout of TARGUSInfo, Keynote Network’s purchase of DeviceAnywhere, Broadsoft’s purchase of Movial Applications, and uBlox’s ingestion of Fusion Wireless (closed the week before, but celebrated at the show). Clearly, capital markets are loosening with respect to mobile opportunities with solid mobile business models.

Companies still dancing to their own drummer are inventing new ways to do business, such as the wireless data supply agreement announced between M2M competitors Raco Wireless and Aeris Communications. Raco, which recently acquired T-Mobile’s M2M team, has a long-term services agreement with T-Mobile that allows it to stabilize Aeris’s GSM network access and rates while the pending AT&T/T-Mobile merger drags through the courts. Neither side is concerned about potential conflicts, as most of Aeris’s M2M MVNO business is CDMA.

Other companies are taking the fight overseas through global expansion, including M2M service providers KORE Telematics and SensorLogic. OUS countries pushing back include Lithuania and South Korea, whose companies promoted their wireless products in dedicated pavilions on the exhibit floor.

Day 3’s keynotes featured companies finding new ways to merge wireless and non-wireless services, such as Shopkick’s integration of mobile and brick-and-mortar retail stores and Jumio’s merger of mobile video and merchant services. Tango expanded its two-way video calling service, now available on 450 handsets, to include a desktop client application: a move that puts it in direct competition with Skype. Tango’s customer base has grown from zero to 23 million in just 13 months.

No discussion of new thinking at fall CTIA 2011 can leave out CTIA’s revamp of the show itself, plus its decision to schedule the next spring show in May to remove the overhang from January’s Consumer Electronics Show and February’s Mobile World Congress. Even more important than the great job CTIA did with its new “Power Series” workshops—separately, the Boardroom Sessions, Speed Sessions, and “Disruptathon” contest—CTIA stuck its toe into social gaming waters with the “Scan it to Win It” contest. The contest was simple: Download the Microsoft Tag app, then scan tags located throughout the convention center to earn points toward winning one of eight iPad 2s or an Xbox 360 4GB with Kinect. Not only did the contest reward players for attending CTIA events, such as 50 points for each Power Session and an escalating number of points for Day 1, 2, and 3 keynotes, it also encouraged interaction with exhibitors by offering 25 points for visiting each booth.

In an attempt to win one of the iPads, I spent two hours racing around the exhibit floor scanning every tag in sight. Though I was not alone in the quest, Tag It players were a clear minority (which made for better odds). I quickly realized I could collect points fastest by working the smaller booths, which led to interesting conversations with people I would otherwise walk right past—an important uptick in attendee engagement for exhibitors. CTIA also rewarded interactions with its services and staff such as offering 50 points for visiting the VIP Club and 10 points for meeting CTIA staff members. A secret “CTIA Super Staff Member” was worth 50 points.

It was thrilling to see the high level of energy and must-do attitude at the show, and I look forward to an update at the 2012 Spring CTIA show in New Orleans May 8-10, 2012. I’m expecting great things, since the weather wasn’t the only thing at CTIA Enterprise & Applications 2011 that was hot! hot! hot!