COMDEX: Analysts eye mobile, home networking

Mobile communications systems and home networking are among the hottest technologies at Comdex this year, practically turning the traditional IT show into a consumer event, a group of analysts have said during a show preview panel.

At first glance Comdex attendees will notice new flat panel technology, particularly in the Hitachi VisionDesk 1330, and the Sharp Actius notebook, which features transflective technology, giving it the best screen of any portable computer, said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Consulting in California.

Other portable devices of note at the show are the Vadem Clio tablet, a full Windows CE-device selling in the US for less than $US1000 that offers a keyboard or pen to navigate when connected to the Internet, and the Cyrix WebPad, a wireless Internet access appliance, Bajarin said.

Also in the consumer aisles at the show will be megapixel digital cameras, which have dropped in price from $US10,000 in 1996 to less than $US500 now, said Bajarin, and a Kodak 64MB card that offers 118 pictures per card, said Cheryl Currid, president of Currid & Co in Houston, Texas.

For video-recorders, Panasonic is showing its Palmcorder videocamera, which shoots to DVD (digital video disk) and includes a firewire port that allows users to remove the recorded content at 200Mbps, according to Currid.

And in the storage area the hot consumer items are DVD rewritable disks and CD-RW (read-write CDs) that "have the potential to be the next floppy", Bajarin said.

Currid also highlighted some small, wearable devices, such as a transceiver device from Hewlett-Packard that allows a user to scan in information and beam it into a PC, PDA (personal digital assistant) or phone through an infrared port. At $US699 it's a "little pricey, but if you've got the need, when you think of the steps you can save you can probably justify it," she said.

Nokia is also showing some items of interest, including a device that enables a user to send scanned information as a fax or an e-mail or log onto the Internet, Currid said. Motorola, meanwhile, is showing a phone with a two-way pager and a mini-phone that lets the user listen and talk through an "earphone," she said. And Loral Space & Communications is showing global positioning devices that hook onto regular computers or handheld devices, she added.

One of the hottest trends at Comdex this year is not a product category but a convergence of technologies -- home networking, analysts said.

Home networking will connect all appliances in a home or office to a common network maintained by a service provider such as a telecommunications company, said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects in Washington, D.C. Phones, PCs, lights, air conditioning and security systems will all be attached to one network, eventually, he said.

Attendees at Comdex will see only "the tip of the iceberg of the first-generation of home networking products," said Bajarin. The standards and other issues that must be worked out before the concept is brought to fruition will be flushed out over the next year, he said.

Meanwhile, more primitive convergence devices -- PC-TVs -- are actually on the market now, for prices ranging from $US8000 to $US10,000, noted Bajarin. Vendors are also showing TV tuner cards that can deliver digital TV to the PC, he said.

Cable modems will soon begin entering the market in mass quantities from retail stores or service providers, and the cable infrastructure will be rebuilt to handle bi-directional transmission by 2000, he predicted.

However, xDSL (digital subscriber line) technology will be the "connector to the house," said Dzubeck.

Also in vogue are voice-over-IP (Internet protocol) or Internet telephony products, particularly PBX systems connected to PC-based local area networks, and biometric security featuring fingerprint identification, Dzubeck said.

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Elinor Mills

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