Wireless: The undercurrent of CES

Wireless: The undercurrent of CES
Years ago when I would attend the Consumer Electronics Show, I would spend most of my time in the wireless pavilion of the show floor visiting with handset makers and accessory manufacturers that would dominate that area. I rarely ventured away from the designated wireless portion of the show floor because there was no need to look elsewhere for mobile products.

Flash-forward to the 2008 CES and that scenario no longer holds true. While there is still a designated wireless area, called Wireless World, it only has exhibits from a handful of firms: Qualcomm, Sprint, Nokia, UTStarcom and a few others.

But that doesn't mean that wireless doesn't have a significant presence at the show. It's actually prevalent all over the conference--embedded in in-car navigation system booths, displayed in the laptop and handheld computer exhibits and present at the gaming booths. It's clear that wireless is becoming a requisite part of most consumer electronics devices.

And when I say wireless, I don't just mean WiFi. This vision of wireless connectivity for all devices extends beyond WiFi to include WiMAX, HSPA and 1xEV-DO. Wireless companies are embracing that vision and firms such as Qualcomm, Motorola and Ericsson and others are now structuring their businesses to sell WiMAX, 1xEV-DO and HSPA technologies to consumer electronics device makers. Ericsson's Mobile Broadband Modules business unit believes that by 2011 more than 50 percent of all new notebooks will have embedded HSPA.

Of course, one of the first to talk to me about wireless connectivity being embedded in every consumer electronics device was Barry West, the president of Sprint Nextel's Xohm Business Unit. West and his team have championed this vision for a long time and it appears that finally others are following their lead.

But I'm still unclear on the business model for this vision. How will wireless operators provision and charge consumers for all these devices that access their networks? I've heard rumblings of "family plans" for devices, in which carriers charge consumers a minimal fee for every extra device they have on the network instead of setting up individual accounts for every device. I'm not convinced this is the answer and I hope that operators are thinking of a variety of different pricing plans. We know from experience that without the right business model, this vision will not succeed. -Sue

P.S. See more of our CES coverage here...