CES 2016-3: The Mists of Analogue Antiquity

RC 206 (Las Vegas) CES kicked off in earnest yesterday with back-to-back presentations by Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) (the new moniker of the Consumer Electronics Association, which hosts CES) and Steve Koenig, CTA’s senior director. The two explored, respectively, tech trends to watch in 2016 and the global CE industry. The presentations helped form, or at least confirm, the context in which I am trolling the show. Less compelling was the Apple vs. Microsoft debate two people behind me were having. When they asked me my opinion, I pointed to my Blackberry and shrugged.

As I have mentioned previously, CES features all manner of consumer electronics, so if one ventures far enough off the beaten track to the edges of the hall, one can see rice steamers and toaster ovens. At a reception last night, one vendor was showing off a juicer that features a scale which alerts the user to stop adding milk. Or honey. Or fruit. Of course, a line on the side of the measuring-cup accomplishes the same task, but the gleaming silver base with blue lights was far more attractive.

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CTA’s Steve Koenig prepares to speak as a standing-room only crowd of press and industry analysts primes itself with a series of industry overviews before the show opens.

The dichotomy between measuring-cup lines and the electronics in the juicer was representative of a trend noted by DuBravac in his address: though we are surrounded by digital devices, we continue to live in an analogue world.

DuBravac’s observation was woven from statistics and an overview of the past half-century of the consumer electronics industry. It seems that every year, major TV network evening news reports cover CES, often including in their stories information about the latest, largest, sharpest TV. And, I am not saying that a 60” curved screen with frighteningly clear resolution is not meaningful, but as DuBravac noted, the difference between the past 10 or 15 years and today is that we are no longer focused on what is technically possible – instead, we are thinking about what is technically meaningful. Read more

CES 2016-2: So Sorry, Miss MOLLE

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Outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, someone from Samsung hopes the sign hangers will complete this job . . .

(Las Vegas) Well, the CES organizers threw me a curveball this year. Increased security procedures compelled me to leave Miss MOLLE at home for the first time. Miss MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) is my three-day assault pack, a formidable bag into which I have crammed three days’ worth of gear for previous CES shows. Its many pockets devour clothing, snacks, papers and a laptop, while numerous exterior loops and Velcro fasteners accept attachments of smaller packs into which cables, cameras equipment and spare batteries can be packed. CES organizers, however, responding to both national and international events (terrorism), placed strict limits on the size of bags that can be brought into the show floor this year, and Miss MOLLE exceeds the max size. Although there is a mechanism for credentialed press to obtain an exemption following a full bag check, it was not clear whether my “analyst” badge (which accords all privileges as are enjoyed by press) would extend to the bag exemption. So, for this year, Miss MOLLE stays at home and gently weeps, while I split my essentials into a smaller backpack and a half-empty carry-on.

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Within hours, these crates and plastic will be replaced by throngs pressing toward the expo hall and meeting rooms.

At a recurring industry meeting when I was new to the field, a staffer confided that after a while, the meetings tend to blur together. At the time, I could not understand – every segment of the meeting seemed intricately planned, the venues changed from year to year and the roster of speakers and activities engaged participants fully. But, several years later, I saw that behind every session, luncheon, expo event and keynote, there is a process and formula to getting the job done. So, while the content would be refreshed each year to reflect the latest market trends, regulatory evolutions and technological advancements, the business of getting the show off the ground depended upon perhaps less exciting but as critical processes that over time settled into a known set of actions. Read more

CES 2016-1: Preview

Attending CES as an analyst brings numerous emails to my in-box from PR reps and firms vying for attention. I was kind of flattered through the first 50 or so messages, but the average number of messages per day increases as CES draws closer, and at this point it requires some dedicated time in the afternoon to quickly scan and sift those that warrant more attention and those that can be relegated quickly to the trash bin.

Booths I probably will not visit: recall, CES is “Consumer Electronics Show,” and while in my parochial view of the world I tend to interpret that as “broadband enabled and connected,” it includes virtually any item that has a cord or a battery. Electric toothbrushes? Check. Double-walled hot water urns? Check. Projectors that enable families to view cartoons against a living room wall? Check. And, all manner of cell phone cases and other products that seem to exist only to provide a forum for Hello Kitty (my favorite CES memory is of a booth in the far reaches of one of the distant show floors – it was empty, expect for two chairs and a bearded man who was offering blessings to convention goers. I watched for a few minutes, and indeed a few hopeful souls bowed their heads with him).

Booths I will visit: telehealth; fitness; connected home; wireless phone accessories. Even in the few years I have been attending CES, the participation of health care and fitness firms seems to have increased exponentially. Two articles in today’s newspapers allude to these trends: the Wall Street Journal features two articles today, “What Tech Will Rule 2016″ and “The Tech That Will Change Your Life in the Next Year.” And, CNET mused that CES ” . . . Will be Full of Wearables, But Would You Actually Wear Them?

So, I beg forgiveness of the toothbrush guy (though last year I did speak with a “connected toothbrush” manufacturer) and the fellow hawking the new coffee maker – unless, of course, I can direct a double-shot espresso from my phone. My eyes will be on the items that are geared toward healthcare, education, security and IoT.

See you next week here.

It’s the End of the Year as We Know It (and Here’s Looking Ahead . . .)

Coming-Attractions (1)Traditionally, New Edge does not publish during the last week of December. But, that does not mean that we cannot load you up with some news and expectations . . .

Reports from CES

Start the New Year with live-blog reports from CES, with a focus on health, smart home and IoT. Reporting will begin January 4, 2016.

Municipal Broadband: A Toolkit for Incumbent Rural Providers

Upcoming New Edge “E-Paper” will explore opportunities for rural communications providers in municipal broadband network initiatives. Serial installments are intended to serve as a toolkit for rural broadband providers who may be considering working with municipalities outside of the broadband provider’s incumbent service area, and include an open source document to which readers are encouraged to comment and contribute.

We’re Moving!

In 2016, New Edge will be published with NTCA’s Exchange blog in a multi-media blog format. Details coming soon!

And . . . 

To close out the year, please enjoy this terrific article from the Daily Yonder: The Big-City Guide to Small-Town Living

Why I Leave that Unwashed Mug on my Desk

I’d wager that at least several times a year, I slap my head and wonder whether I remembered to activate all of the automatic responses that alert colleagues and clients that I am out of the office. This usually happens on Sunday night as I am packing a bag, but sometimes occurs as I am pulling out of the garage before a long weekend. Fortunately, I can alter my voice and email messages from the road, so I am never far from the ability to fix what I forgot.

Of course, I never amend my personal email or home answering machine, since that would be somewhat akin to leaving a big sign on the front door that reads, “Come on in! No one is home!” And, to be sure, every so often someone posts a “You could learn from this . . . ” story somewhere about the family that posted a string of photos and updates of their vacation on social media only to return home to evidence that someone took advantage of the opportunity they advertised.

Experts are now warning some industries to take similar precautions at work.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that banks, in particular, are taking a hard look at practices many deemed responsible, if not unquestionable benefits of an automated world. “Out of office” messages? They might be a signal to hacker that a work station is not occupied. And, it need not be an electronic hack; if there is a such thing as an “analogue” hack, a cold seat at the cubicle could invite a quick cell phone picture of sensitive documents.

According to the Journal, the banking industry is increasing its anti-breach vigilance, especially after J.P. Morgan suffered a breach that affected 76 million households. And, the trouble with banks, so to speak, is that they’re not simply a gateway to personal financial data – they are personal financial data.

Telling is a comment of John Stumpf, Wells Fargo, on cyber-security spending: “It is the only expense where I ask if it’s enough.”

As is the case with any security system, human attention is the last bulwark against a breach; and, human error is the first line of defense to fail.

Some firms are now engaging the assistance of experts who set up surreptitious training exercises in which employees are tested to determine whether they reply to dubious emails from their desk or are susceptible to phishing or other scams.

You Stream, I Stream, We All Stream…

It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if I were to tell you that streaming of video and music is taking up increasingly large chunks of bandwidth.  But you might be shocked to learn just how widespread streaming has become.

According to broadband services company Sandvine, streaming now accounts for more than 70% of all U.S. downstream traffic. And it’s not just the volume of streaming that’s so astounding, but the rapid rate of growth, as well: just five years ago, that figure stood at 35%. And as broadband adoption rates continue to steadily climb, there’s no reason to believe that the growth of streaming will slow.

The continued growth in popularity of both YouTube and Netflix have contributed mightily to this 70% figure. But relative newcomers Amazon and Hulu, still nascent in 2010, now account for nearly 6% of usage combined.

On the mobile front, video and audio counts for 41% of mobile traffic, most of that via YouTube. Social media—primarily Facebook and Snapchat—represents 22%.

With the continued critical and commercial success of Netflix and Amazon’s original programming, and the viewing public’s newly-acquired penchant for “binge watching,” expect to see these streaming numbers to continue to grow well into the foreseeable future.

The Psychic Cheshire Cat and Ubiquitous Milk: Net Neutrality at the Court of Appeals

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Marble statues of Hammurabi, Moses, Solon and Justinian adorn the marble wall of Courtroom 20 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where arguments on the 2105 FCC Open Internet Order were heard last Friday. To clarify, I did not take this picture – the use of recording devices, cameras and other electronics is prohibited in the courtroom.

The first lesson I learned last Friday is that you can never arrive too early for a good argument. I entered the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit about an hour and a quarter before arguments on the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order were scheduled to begin, and by the time I made it through security and up to the sixth floor, I was about the 70th person waiting to get into the courtroom. Among those in line were a D.C. phenomenon – “line holders,” or “line sitters,” people who are paid a fee to hold a place in a line for others. About 15 minutes before “post time,” a court officer announced that line sitters would be required to vacate their spaces as soon as he began letting spectators into the courtroom. At that point, the free market began to emerge with people asking the line holder coordinator (whose business card reads a vague and amorphous “consultant”) whether they could effectively fly stand-by purchasing rights to unclaimed spots (e.g., those whose “ticket holders” had not yet arrived).

US Telecom came out swinging the statutes, arguing that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 established clear distinctions between telecommunications and information services that the FCC could not override. The judicial panel replied by brandishing NCTA v. Brand X. This initial exchange set the tone for the rest of the morning. The judicial panel – Judges Sri Srinivasan and David Tatel and Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams – were overwhelmingly prepared. Srinivassan is relatively young, and it was evident as he began asking questions why he occupies a seat on the bench; Tatel looks younger than his 73 years, and at times was relentless in his questioning; Williams, 79, looks like a judge, and could easily have taken a position among the marble statues of Hammurabi, Moses, Solon and Justinian that jutted from the wall above his head.

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