Back To the Suites: CES 2010 Preview

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Tim Higgins

The annual tech extravaganza hits Las Vegas next week. But, like the U.S. economy, it has suffered some downsizing.

I suppose it’s not surprising that a show that exists to promote products that come behind shelter, food and health care in the average consumer’s spending priorities would be suffering in this economy. So here are some signs I’ve found of how much CES is feeling the pinch:

  • Monday’s press release trumpets a "record 330 new exhibitors". But the CEA says total exhibitors will be "more than 2,500"—a roughly 7 % drop from last year and 14% from the 2008 show (stats here).
  • There are still plenty of rooms available and not just at the hotels that are (or should be) next on the tear-down list.
  • I usually spend the first morning roaming the Sands Expo Center where startups and smaller companies who can’t afford (or won’t pay) the higher rates at the LVCC (Las Vegas Convention Center) are banished to. It wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized that there are no CES exhibits at the Sands this year. So the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo will have the place all to itself.
  • There was lots of empty space in the LVCC last year and it looks like there will be again next week. So why not turn it into restaurant space? Presto, Bistro CES is born to absorb some of the previously premium space in the South Hall.
    No tumbleweeds last year. But plenty of space!
  • Many companies have retreated to hotel suites instead of the show floor. After 9/11, companies swung hard over to this method of cost control. But getting around Las Vegas is a real hassle with the traffic snarls that CES brings and the wasted time results in fewer meetings. So over the past few years, many companies came back to the show, if not just to meeting rooms adjacent to the show floors.

    This year, however, it seems that many companies have once again retreated to hotel suites. Cheaper and less hassle for them, but a pain for those of us trying to meet with as many companies as possible.

How do things look for Networking this year? Well, I’ll be spending more time with chip companies and consortiums like Quantenna (four-stream 802.11n) and WirelessHD (60 GHz HD networking) than I will with traditional networking companies. That’s how exciting things are looking.

Of the "big three", only D-Link will be on the main show floor, tucked away into a downsized booth further back in the hall than they usually are. But their Boxee Box is already generating buzz, and they look like they have a few other exciting products to announce.Of course, D-Link is famous for generating buzz at CES and then shipping late in the year or not at all. So don’t get too excited about what you hear, unless the ship date is "Q1" or "now".

NETGEAR has no booth and will only be hosting a press conference the day before the show opens and be at one of the press events. So far, they’re keeping mum on their announcements. Cisco, who withdrew from the show at the last minute last year, is encamped at the Venetian, holding invitation-only private briefings, with no announcements planned for the show.

And what exciting new stuff do I expect to see for networking? Not much, I think. There might be some more three-stream 802.11n announcements. But nothing announced last year is shipping yet and Atheros’ new three-stream chipset was announced only last month. So if anything is announced, I don’t expect it will ship until toward mid-2010.

In NASes, the march toward lower cost and higher performance (although not necessarily in the same product) will continue. QNAP will be announcing new Atom-based two, four, six and eight drive models and I expect that Buffalo, Iomega and others will trot out new models.

The real excitement at the show will be generated by companies trying to blunt the oncoming Apple slate / table juggernaut with various touch-based devices. HP is rumored to be brewing up something in this area and ASUS, MSI and even Dell may have something to show, too.

I’ll be at the show most of next week. So keep an eye out for our CES updates, which will also post to our Twitter stream.Until then, have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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