The Road Wirer
by Mark Sedenquist
The Road Wirer just spent four days prowling the halls and conference rooms of the Consumer Electronic Show, (CES), in Las Vegas, Nevada, in search of tools and services that can or will enable the lifestyle of Dashboarders. The show was, in turns, exhilarating, exhausting, educational, perplexing and frustrating. One of the central buzzwords-- "convergence" is the effort by literally thousands of creative engineers, marketing analysts, management gurus and venture capitalists to blend and merge diverse electronic mediums such as wireless communications, audio, TV and computer systems into devices that they hope consumers and businesses will purchase. The nature of this convergence is also creating a form of commerce that is merging many elements of traditional finance, merchandising, fulfillment, shipping and customer service.
Some of the proffered new "combo" products remind me of a unique kitchen appliance that was issued a patent by the U.S. Patent Office at the beginning of the 20th century. Its exact name is lost to history, but it was a tri-mode hand-held convenience device which provided the combined utility of a grocery carrier, a cheese grater and a rat trap, three functions that are probably happier, not to mention more profitable, when left "unconverged."
This is not suggest that CES failed to provide ample glimpses of some very useful technology and creative combinations of electronic engineering and marketing expertise. It was hard not to be wowed by the beauty and performance of the HDTV display screens positioned around the show areas. The high-end audio displays and volume of amazing gadgets and gizmos (some of which require technology that hasn't been invented yet!) was remarkable. The expert panels and conferences that the Consumer Electronics Association organized were led by luminaries of the industry and targeted ten separate topic tracks from "Digital Hollywood," "Emerging Life & Workstyle Technologies," and "E-Commerce" to political and governmental issues. The programs ran on time and the show was well managed. Needless to say, the "Mobile Electronics and Wireless Communications" conference was my primary focus at this show.
As you know, the premise of the Road Wirer column is finding the means to obtain and use information on the road, anytime and anywhere. Dashboarders, whether they are in a car, an RV, a mobile office, sitting on their lawns, on the bridge of a boat, flying at 30,000 feet, or maybe even pursuing the final frontier in the space shuttle all share the same basic problem. The size of the pipeline, (or data stream) is insufficient at present to accommodate almost every item on our wish list of wireless functions and services. I looked at a number of gadgets and devices that exist in a physical way but won't really by fully functional for at least another four or five years, or until broadband wireless service and/or other supporting technologies are ubiquitous and project-efficient. This view was confirmed by several project engineers with whom I spoke during the course of the CES event.
There is no question that new applications of newer technologies have made it possible to be "wired and rolling" in more places in the United States in 2000 than it was in 1994 when the Road Wirer first hit the pavement, but there is still a huge gap between what is real and what is being represented in the glossy advertisements in magazines and in web advertising for wireless products. A typical line in such an ad for a paging device reads "...Now, no matter where you are, you're connected...to Internet content & e-mail" With very little difficulty I can locate areas in rural counties-- and even some urban areas-- of the United States where such connections don't exist. In the next Road Wirer column, (which will be posted this week), I will review some more findings from my visit to CES in Las Vegas and share some commentary about the offerings.
At the risk of being found guilty of touting "vaporware" myself, I am happy to announce two soon-to-unfold projects: By February 1st, we will launch a new Dashboarders Forum on RoadTripAmerica.com to allow and encourage posting of ideas, questions and expertise in the field of wireless communications and mobile lifeystyle and workstyle solutions. Second, at a time and place yet to be determined (but no later than third quarter, 2001), RoadTrip America will host a Wireless Dashboarding Summit, (WDS) to be held in some semi-remote area of the country. This will be a weekend event, suitable for family and friends at which we will be field-testing every internet-enabled, satellite and wireless communication device we can get our hands on. It is likely that we will have units in beta- testing mode to experiment with. I welcome your suggestions as to an appropriate location for this event. Obviously, we will want to select an area that is near a zone serviced by a digital service provider, since the offerings provided by analog-only service will not be conducive to conducting the range of field trials we have envisioned.
As you will see in my next posting, I am encouraged by the breadth and creativity of the electronic industry community working to create products and services that will enable the rise of a fully integrated Dashboarding economy and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.
Las Vegas, Nevada
January 10, 1999