- CES 2014 continued the trend of including high-profile participation from players outside the consumer electronics world.
- This trend is best understood in terms of enabling ‘consumer experiences.’
Last year, when coordinating with colleagues around CES 2013, a few were surprised that I had set aside time to connect with the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, and Ericsson. “They don’t make phones. They don’t make tablets. They don’t make TVs. Sure, Cisco makes set-tops, but why are the other vendors even coming to CES? I suppose some execs just wanted a free trip to Vegas!” Okay, in retrospect, I’m probably remembering things in a much more amplified form. That said, you get the idea. For a show with ‘consumer electronics’ in the title, it does seem a little strange that vendors traditionally associated with network infrastructure would be exhibiting.
Wait, did I say “exhibiting”? Scratch that. Insert “keynoting” in its place.
That’s right. This year, Cisco and Ericsson had CES keynote airtime up alongside the likes of Intel, Ford, Audi, Qualcomm, Sony Facebook, and Twitter. A show most commonly associated with gadgets saw its keynotes dominated by auto makers, content plays, and silicon and network vendors. All of this makes sense if you look at CES as being about ‘consumer experiences’ vs. ‘consumer electronics.’
I can’t take credit for re-interpreting the ‘CE’ in CES. Well, I could, but I’d be lying. Nonetheless, the idea is a straightforward one. Phones, tablets, fitness trackers, set-tops, and cars are all a part of an increasingly connected consumer electronics landscape. Integrating them into a meaningful consumer experience, however, requires a diverse set of players. Take AT&T Drive (the operator’s connected car platform) as an example. Consumers may, ultimately, be responsible for executing on connected car use cases. None of these use cases, however, will exist without the combined efforts of car makers, carriers, billing vendors, content vendors, and a myriad of others. Think about it; of the initial AT&T Drive partners that were named (Ericsson, VoiceBox, Synchronoss, Accenture, Amdocs, Jasper), how many are consumer-facing brands? Take a company like Boingo Wireless as another example. Direct-to-consumer WiFi sales are still a part of its business, sure. Yet, building out and managing venue-based networks (stadiums, airports) while partnering with operators is a much bigger focus. So, why show up at CES? Because delivering a solid WiFi experience out to consumers requires work with the consumer electronics players as well as operators which distribute millions upon millions of WiFi-enabled phones and tablets each year. Oh yeah, and the operators they hope to partner with (sell into) were probably at the show too.
It might seem easy to dismiss CES for many telecom operators and network vendors. Vendors that ignore the show are missing out on an opportunity to understand their customers’ customers. Operators that cannot afford to make the trip should, at least, be able to lean on their vendors for a view into what it all means.