CES : Gadgets show IT’s future

If you are reading this publication, chances are you love gadgets. Let’s face it, we all love technology, and if we could do nothing but track the latest gadgets, we probably would.

Now more than ever though, there’s a hidden message in gadget mania, and it has to do with your telephone company, its future offerings and your IT environment. Consumer-goods manufacturers are in a rush to network-enable everything under the sun. With that network-enablement comes a host of new services, gadgets and trends that will undoubtedly affect businesses.

With telecom innovation in a slump and pressure on service providers to deploy new revenue-generating services with a quick return on investment, there’s not much new happening on the services front. New launches are being scaled back, and regulation again holds the key to whether it all gets jump-started again.

But the consumer space is booming. Nowhere is this more pronounced than at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held recently in Las Vegas. As experience with PDAs and other consumer goods has shown (note I called PDAs a consumer device), employees will adopt what they think will make them more efficient and life more fun, and leave it for IT managers to figure out later what to do.

So what happens when your employees can surf onto the corporate intranet from their TV set? At CES, Prismiq Inc. showed off a best-of-show US$250 wireless-supported device for doing instant messaging and Web browsing on the TV, in addition to consumer favorites such as playing MP3s and videos – all via a link to your computer, which can be rooms away. Heard it before with WebTV? Sure, but it’s getting better and better, and now with wireless links between computers (and the broadband connection) and the entertainment center, a whole new realm of revenue opportunities for service providers comes in.

How many times have people said, “No one wants to watch a movie on their computer?” A lot. Despite that, DVD drives for laptops are now almost standard issue. But getting that DVD to the TV has been constrained by a huge divide between the computing and entertainment domains in the home. With the advent of new standards such as the UPnP media server specifications, transport layers are in place for getting content off the PC and onto the TV.

But computer images look bad on TVs, you say. Yes they do, but you can get 42-inch wide-screen plasma TVs for less than $3,000. Even better, you can get a HDTV-ready, 43-inch, Digital Light Processing rear-projected display from Samsung for about $3,500. Those prices are dropping 50 percent or more per year.

So outside of loving gadgets and wanting a wide-screen TV, why care? Because these technologies are filtering into the business environment. Wide screens are all over trade-show booths and executive offices. The proliferation of 802.11x wireless standards has moved into unlikely places such as the car and beyond the home. And some products seemingly geared for the home would work great in the office. My favorite is the Siemens/Efficient Networks HomePlug-enabled SpeedStream modules that allow you to plug a $100 access point into the wall and hop onto your broadband connection via USB, Ethernet or HomePlug at the other end. Pretty darn cool, easy to install and the price is expected to drop substantially in the future.

We expect the newest round of 802.11g products from a variety of vendors to cost about the same as the present 802.11b products almost as soon as they come out, and the 802.11b products on the market are going to cost about half as much as they do today. What does that do for your network plans? Have some dead zones in your office? Just pick up another access point. With more products shipping with 802.11 onboard, it’s inevitable that they will show up at work. And how are you going to put VPNs on those items? Better get cracking.

It’s critical to stay on the forefront of all the things going on in the consumer arena. Go to a consumer show every once in a while, not just the telecom and IT shows. More and more, the power of the broadband-enabled home is going to show up in the office.

Briere is CEO of TeleChoice, a market strategy consultancy for the telecommunications industry. He can be reached at telecomcatalyst@telechoice.com.