CES--more than just a smartphone launching pad

It's long been customary for device manufacturers to make a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by announcing their latest smartphones and feature phones. Last year, as you may recall, Palm grabbed the headlines with the unveiling of its Pre device and webOS platform.

But this year wireless was even more prominent at the annual confab, and I think there are a couple of reasons why. First, wireless is aggressively being incorporated into all types of consumer electronics devices, and those devices are starting to gain popularity at the show. In particular, netbooks, smartbooks, wireless-enabled tablets and ereaders are gaining steam with consumers.

During a breakfast panel discussion on embedded wireless devices on Jan. 7, hosted by FierceWireless, more than 200 invitation-only guests heard panelists such as Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T; Anthony Lewis, vice president of open development at Verizon; John Horn, national director of M2M at T-Mobile USA; Vicki Obenshain, director of wireless strategy at Panasonic; and Mats Norin, vice president of mobile broadband modules at Ericsson, talk about the growing demand for embedded devices. Specifically, panelists said wireless connectivity is important now because of widespread 3G coverage, operators' desire to score extra revenues through embedded devices, and consumers' expectation that all their devices be able to connect to a network.

This message was further honed by Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs during his keynote address Jan. 8. Jacobs predicted that soon all electronics devices will have wireless chips and "will essentially have a cell phone inside." He added that Qualcomm's Snapdragon chipset is being used by 15 device manufacturers in 40 devices.

But besides embedded wireless, CES also has become a forum for wireless carriers to attract more mobile developers. In fact, this year two major operators tied their developer events to CES.

AT&T Mobility hosted its annual developer event Wednesday, Jan. 6, in Las Vegas just a day prior to CES. AT&T used the event, which attracted more than 1,000 developers, as a stage for President and CEO Ralph de la Vega to announce the company's plans to launch five Android phones and two webOS devices in 2010, and to talk about its openness to all OEM app stores. The company surprised many in the industry by also announcing that it will launch BREW MP on all its feature phones, giving customers without smartphones a way to purchase apps (AT&T currently supports Java).

Not to be outdone, Verizon Wireless also hosted a developer event for its Open Development Initiative on the same day, Jan. 6. That event didn't attract as big of a crowd as AT&T's developer meeting, but Verizon also used CES as a forum to demonstrate some of its LTE device concepts, including a Motorola-made tablet with LTE and Android and an LTE-equipped car from Alcatel-Lucent.

Like Verizon and AT&T, Sprint Nextel also was very visible at the show, touting its 4G service (a huge banner with Sprint 4G was hanging off the Las Vegas Hilton). In addition, the company hosted a high-profile event Wednesday evening to launch its Overdrive Mobile WiMAXhotspot .

Clearly, CES is becoming a huge showcase for wireless technology and services, and I expect that in the future more wireless companies will target this show for their product launches. To check out all our CES coverage, please click here. --Sue

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