CES: Goodbye Comdex, hello CES

In just a few years, the giant Comdex conference, a showcase for the latest in computer technology, has given way in Las Vegas to the giant Consumer Electronics Show.

This year, more than 120,000 attendees are expected to troop through four separate locations to see wares from 2,400 exhibitors. Those kinds of numbers mean CES has become the industry's showcase for computer and network technologies that are converging in three areas: the end user device, the network to which those devices are connected, and the services accessible over those nets.

Consumer electronics used to be a clearly understood category, referring to products that were bought by individual buyers for personal use or use in the home. IT groups didn't evaluate video recorders, stereos, or TVs.

But the PC long ago started to blur the distinction between consumer and enterprise products. And increasingly capable cell phones, or computing devices with cellular interfaces, have made the distinction all but meaningless: these devices can access corporate e-mail systems, run business applications, update corporate databases. Wireless is spurring deployment of video monitoring and surveillance systems. Digital images or video and audio clips are becoming routine parts of a corporation's data store for insurance records, field service, customer service and other applications.

The same technology is manifest in products for homes and enterprises. In some cases, the same product can be used in both.

The home looks more like an extension of the corporate office. Or maybe it's the other way around. One session at CES focuses on vendor opportunities in the burgeoning residential market for structured wiring systems, which have long been an essential feature of corporate nets. As homes become as networked as offices, IT will be looking at the issues of integrating them and supporting teleworkers more directly and extensively than ever before.

Structured wiring systems and broadband wireless nets both in the home and on the road - coupled with homogenization of data by digitizing it - are now a foundation for technology innovation. Increasingly, technology vendors are introducing cutting-edge advances in the consumer space first. Last year, WLAN radio chipmaker Atheros introduced a chipset optimized for high-quality multimedia transmission, targeted first at consumer electronics designers and manufacturers.

CES will showcase, among other things, a wireless USB interface to link peripherals to PCs or home entertainment servers, over Ultra Wideband radio technology, which until now has been limited to some military and radar products.

Cisco's Linksys wireless LAN group, focused on the residential and small business markets, announced this week its first WLAN router and client network interface card using a WLAN innovation called MIMO (multiple input multiple output) and based on a radio chipset from AirGo Networks.

Essentially, MIMO chipsets use two or more antennas to send and receive and algorithms to pack data onto multiple radio pathways. Vendors claim wireless throughput with MIMO is at least 100M bit/sec, compared to something like 20M to 24M bit/sec for 802.11g or 11a nets today - and it can boost range.

MIMO is not an official standard; the IEEE 802.11n task group is sifting through scores of technology proposals for a high-throughput WLAN standard. Nearly all of these proposals are about one version or another of MIMO.

CES products, like PCs, are becoming inconceivable without networks. PC gaming has moved from a personal experience on one's own computer to an interactive social experience on a network. The real-time requirements of networked gaming could be a laboratory for future enterprise collaboration programs.

Finally, there is the demand by non-technical buyers for simplicity and reliability in computer-based products that are networked. One example at CES is news from RF chipmaker Broadcom about security software that will let home users easily set up highly secure WLANs. 

With Broadcom’s SecureEasySetup, users simply press a hard button on their Linksys access points and HP printers to activate security based on the Wi-Fi Protected Access Standard. They will also need to download a client version for their handheld devices, and click on a button to complete the process.


Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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