Low Rolling in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — The go-go ’90s have gone-gone from Las Vegas, with casino building projects stopped (one of the most recent and ritzy, the Aladdin, is bankrupt) and Japan Air Lines canceling its once-crowded tourist flights in the wake of September 11. Even so, there’ve never been so many tourists in town during Comdex/Fall.

The tech convention that usually takes over Sin City, squeezing the “civilian” visitors out of hotel rooms and restaurants, is a shrunken, subdued affair this year, with metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs outside the Las Vegas Convention Center and unusually wide aisles inside. Both exhibitor and attendee rosters are down sharply, the former despite booths for products or vendors not strictly associated with IT management (Microsoft’s Xbox? American Express? Cessna?); with the likes of IBM, Dell, ViewSonic, and Gateway absent from the show floor, the usually obscure pavilions of Korean and Canadian hardware makers seeking U.S. distributors loom relatively large.

But there are still new products and technologies to be found. Wireless is white hot, with Bluetooth — the short-range replacement for printer or PDA connection cables — finally appearing in products like TDK Systems‘ Go Blue series of add-ons for Palm V and M handhelds and notebook PC Card slots.

And virtually every PC vendor, as well as networking supplier, has embraced the 802.11b WiFi or 11Mbps wireless Ethernet standard, with Compaq, for instance, replacing its earlier HomeRF gear with an 802.11b connection point or cable/DSL broadband gateway ($300 with built-in firewall and four-port Ethernet switch) and $130 PC Card and $140 USB adapters.

In fact, vendors are already looking beyond 802.11b to the 54Mbps speeds of 802.11a, with both Intel (the Pro/Wireless 5000 series) and Proxim (the SkyLine 802.11a family) introducing a $449 access point and $179 CardBus PC Card adapter. Proxim’s gear, while able to communicate with other brands of 802.11a hardware, offers a “2X” or 108Mbps mode for intramural connections.

Meanwhile, Microsoft‘s Bill Gates devoted much of his keynote speech to the company’s Tablet PC initiative, for which partners including Compaq, Fujitsu, Toshiba, NEC, and ViewSonic have agreed to deliver systems in the second half of 2002.

For more coverage of the Comdex trade show, be sure to read Eric Grevstad’s full report available on sister site, HardwareCentral.

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