Comdex 2003 - Wireless and then some


Farpoint Group –

I always enjoy Comdex. I went a couple of times during the '80s, and have been a regular since 1991. I've also been on the Comdex Conference Advisory Board since 1997, and I'm now the longest surviving member. "Surviving" is actually a good description, because this event is enormous, demanding, and challenging to plan, stage, present, and otherwise produce. My hat is off to the folks at MediaLive International (the new owner of Comdex, Networld+Interop, Next Generation Networks, and a few other well-known brands). Comdex for me has always been time well-spent, even with all the craziness of Las Vegas in the mix.

Comdex is not a telecom or wireless show, and other events cover these areas in more depth, but Comdex does bring all aspects of IT, including wireless, into focus in an interdisciplinary environment. You've probably seen reports that Comdex was smaller this year, at least in terms of the Expo itself. I really have nothing to do with this part of the show, other than enjoying the discovery of new products and services. And with just a little searching, I uncovered a few wireless gems that were announced. Among the more interesting:

1.Sprint's Push-to-Talk (PTT) - Sprint has joined Verizon as a competitor in the push-to-talk instant-voice-communications business with "PCS Ready Link", using a similar technology and approach. Perhaps even more importantly, though, PTT leader Nextel announced (although not at Comdex) its wideband technology (called "WiDEN"), which will allow it to remain competitive with Sprint and others encroaching on its home turf with high-speed data features designed to preserve market share with its core business customers (See the release). Even though Nextel didn't have a booth at Comdex, it still made a splash in Vegas with plans for an "immersive experience" at the new monorail station at the Convention Center. While the monorail is not yet operational, a train with big "Nextel" lettering was seen slowly cruising the tracks during the entire Comdex event.

2.AT&T's EDGE - Sprint and others have been razzing AT&T about its relatively slow data services, which are based on the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). The upgrade path for GPRS is known as Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution, or EDGE, and AT&T announced nationwide EDGE service at Comdex. See more on EDGE, but it's often described as "GPRS on steroids", with much faster data via improved modulation efficiency - actual performance will be comparable to CDMA's 1XRTT. However, keep in mind that actual over-the-air throughput is but one component of a satisfactory user experience. I've found that server latency is a much bigger issue, and I'll cover this topic in more detail during 2004.

3.A couple of others - There was a nice almost-universal infrared keyboard for PDAs from Hann Hwa in Taiwan. (COMDEX is always a great place to see innovative products from offshore), and the first PDA (a new Sony Clie) with USB On-The-Go, which essentially allows handheld devices and cell phones (among others) to be USB bus masters. This is going to greatly increase the utility and value of mobile products of all forms. Learn more about this here.

Yes, there were a few wireless LANs, wireless security products, and a bunch of other stuff, but, as I mentioned, the show just wasn't as big as in the past. On the other hand, I should also mention that the conference's wireless sessions, which are produced by Farpoint Group, were by and large packed. We had some great speakers and covered all of the important topics in wireless today, from WLANs to developer tools. Between the conference and a few items of interest in the expo, I got my share of information this year. Given the success of this part of the show, it's a safe bet that Comdex will be back next year.

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