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CES 2012

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CES LogoWe're dustin' off our walkin' shoes for the annual Vegas trek and giving you a brief review of what we'll be looking for.

Yes, it's that time again for the annual trotting out of gadgets big and small, amazing and useless, elegant and tacky in the city that has no shame. Here's a brief rundown of what I'll be looking for at the Big Shew...

802.11ac

Wireless hardware vendors always love, love, love to have a bigger number to hype. So get ready to see the drumbeat start for 1300 Mbps (or 1.3 Gbps) wireless. Work on the 802.11ac Very High Throughput <6Ghz standard started back in 2008 and the initial draft spec completed about a year ago.

So with official spec release currently scheduled for December 2013, we're naturally going to see the first product prototypes trotted out now. It already leaked that TRENDnet is going to be showing 802.11ac gear in its private suite. But my bet is that we'll see other vendors go public with their plans too. Don't expect to see anything shipping before very late this year or early 2013.

App-Based Routers

I had one vendor tell me last year about its plans to roll out routers that would be able to add features via downloadable apps. But 2011 came and went and nothing appeared. So I'll be looking for this again.

Networking product makers have been trying for years to escape the profitability death spiral that comes from too many similar products chasing the same customers. NAS manufacturers have cracked the code on this somewhat, with vendors like QNAP, Synology and Thecus selling do-it-all boxes at premium prices. But those guys are all moving upmarket to focus on selling server-replacement NASes to small businesses. That's where the bigger profits lie.

Consumer router makers are stuck on a treadmill of adding more features and performance (or at least promising higher performance) and not being able to get more money for them. They're tried anti-virus bundles and made multiple stabs at adding ineffective subscription-based parental control options, with little results. So maybe the ability to add network-focused apps to your gateway to the Internet will get you to part with more cash.

No Booths

With the economy still struggling to recover, networking companies are continuing to decamp to hotel suites rather than endure the cost and hassle of actually displaying their wares on the actual show floor. NETGEAR is again taking private meetings at their hotel, as is Cisco. D-Link is taking a semi-public stance with suites and meeting rooms over at the Venetian, which is considered an official show floor location.

TRENDnet is also staying private and holding meetings over at the Mirage. Iomega has also decided to skip the floor hassle this year and taken its show over to the Renaissance, which is also where ZyXEL is camped out.

So who actually has a booth on the main show floor at the LVCC? Buffalo has decided to move over from its usual hotel suite this year, and Belkin has returned. TP-Link is once again going to be at the LVCC, with a decent-sized stand. All the freed-up space has also made room for the smaller guys to move onto the main floor, so QNAP and Synology will be back, too.

Other Investigations

I'm intrigued by a briefing invite from ViaSat, which promised a demo of its "feels like fiber” web-browsing capability and "speedy" broadband Internet service (12 Mbps at $50) that will be launching this month. ViaSat provides Internet to JetBlue flights and will sell the broadband service via partner WildBlue. I'll report back on what I find.

I also usually try to check in with device manufacturers to see what they're up to. But since my contacts have withered away over the years, I usually end up doing booth drive-bys. I will be seeing Quantenna to see what they're up to in 60 GHz land and I have an appointment with Qualcomm-Atheros to meet an entirely new crew than I've met with in years past. I'll also be sitting down with the Wi-Fi Alliance and, among other things, asking them once again where the hell are all the Wi-Fi Direct products?

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