Comdex highlights handhelds, Tablet PCs and wireless technology

Handheld and tablet PC products look set to dominate the annual Comdex trade show, which begins in Las Vegas today (18 November).

Handheld and tablet PC products look set to dominate the annual Comdex trade show, which begins in Las Vegas today (18 November).

The number of exhibitors at the IT industry's showcase event has fallen from 1,500 last year to 1,100 this year.

Visitors can expect to see a focus on gadgets, especially handheld devices. Open source supporters are also likely to have a strong presence at the show.

Roger Kay, director of client computing at analyst group IDC said he expects Tablet PCs, wireless technology and PDAs to be the major theme of this year's Comdex, along with the synchronisation software needed to make them work together.

Microsoft launched the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software and a number of manufacturers displayed Tablet PC hardware at worldwide events on 7 November, but more product are expected to be unveiled at Comdex.

"It will be interesting to see the formal coming-out of the Tablets. Several non-name brand vendors are coming out of the woodwork," said Kay.

He also predicted new wireless technology and products. "The development of a hot spot infrastructure [such as those in boutiques and coffee shops] will make mobile computing interesting," Kay said.

Vendors in the wireless LAN segment will demonstrate products that squeeze higher performance from the IEEE 802.11b specification as well as ones that combine 802.11b with the faster 802.11a standard.

Some will also be demonstrating or discussing implementations of the emerging 802.11g technology, which will bring higher speed to networks using 802.11b's 2.4GHz spectrum band.

The Wi-Fi Alliance will sponsor a pavilion on the show floor where vendors will demonstrate wireless products and take turns giving presentations on stage.

Wireless LAN users have several ways to boost their performance and will have one more after 802.11b/802.11g products come out, but the networks may not be there to support the higher speeds, said IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell.

"In a home, where you can control everything, it's fine, but outside of that it just falls back to [11Mbps]," O'Donnell said of enhanced 802.11b systems.

"I think we're going to have the same issue with the 802.11g stuff," he added. "People aren't going to rip out their 802.11b base stations."

Despite the promise of a faster 2.4GHz technology next year, 802.11a will be relevant because it has more channels to support more users, according to Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at MobileTrax.

One area that may not produce much news this year is security. Despite a keynote on security, featuring executives from leading vendors, many of the vendors will not be exhibiting.

RSA Security, Internet Security Systems and Network Associates, for example, will not have stands. However, Sun Microsystems and Check Point are expected to unveil a security appliance at the show, while VeriSign will be announcing developments in its Trusted Commerce business initiative.

Several smaller security companies plan to take advantage of the lack of bigger competitors and announce their own products during the show.

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