Surprise Microsoft CES appearance signals enterprise mobile's significance

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LAS VEGAS-- The surprise appearance of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer at the kickoff keynote delivered by Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) CEO Paul Jacobs typified the unexpected nature of this year's Consumer Electronics Show held here this week.

Ballmer had indicated last year that Microsoft would no longer kick off the show, and some media reports indicated Microsoft might snub the show altogether, the way Apple did a few years ago.

But there was Ballmer, smiling ear-to-ear, shaking hands with Jacobs, a physical manifestation of their cyber cooperation. Qualcomm supplied its high-speed chips for many of the Windows 8 devices that Microsoft launched last year.

And the parade of celebrities was not over. Ballmer was followed by a filmmaker, a NASCAR racer, a Star Trek actress and even Big Bird. The night was capped off with a surprise appearance by the rock band Maroon 5, minus two of its members.

Striking the theme "born mobile," Jacobs bragged that his firm virtually invented mobile. To prove the point, he unveiled Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 800 and 600 processors. As Phil Goldstein, editor of our sister publication FierceWireless, reported, the introduction of the new chips was a rebuttal to Nvidia, which announced its Tegra 4 chip on Sunday.

Jacobs pitched the 600 series as the high-end device market and boasted that it delivers up to 40 percent better performance than the Snapdragon S4 Pro processor at lower power, Goldstein reported. Qualcomm expects the chip to be ready for commercial devices by the second quarter.

The born mobile theme was carried throughout the show, with many sessions and speeches devoted to mobile technology. One example was the keynote speech by Verizon (NYSE: VZ) CEO Lowell McAdam, who focused on Verizon's efforts in the 4G LTE and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications areas.  McAdam detailed a number of Verizon M2M initiatives including mobile payments, connected cars and e-health.

McAdam attributed the rapid rise of M2M technology, particularly data services requiring lots of bandwidth, to the deployment of 4G LTE networks. By contrast, Nicholas DiCarlo, vice president of product planning and product marketing for Samsung in the United States, attributed the rise in connected devices to shared data plans, according to a CES report by Mike Dano, executive editor for FierceMarkets' Telecom Group. DiCarlo noted that such plans could make it easier for customers to purchase and use Samsung's 3G-capable digital cameras, Dano reported.

While most of the products here are not surprisingly geared toward consumers, many of those devices and applications will find their way into the enterprise through BYOD, as consumers take their latest gadgets to work.

A CES panel on BYOD advised companies to develop BYOD policies and deploy technologies that can identify users, monitor devices and secure apps, such as mobile device management products.

According to a survey released by Samsung and IDC at the show, 85 percent of enterprises permit BYOD, but only 25 to 30 percent have developed policies and deployed technologies to manage those devices and secure data.

Wireline telecom was represented too. Hank Hultquist, vice president of regulatory affairs at AT&T (NYSE: T), proclaimed the end of the circuit-switched network and the dawn of the all IP-based network. He forecast that the end of the legacy world would come on Dec. 21, 2020, give or take a few years. The rapid improvement in voice quality over VoIP in the next few years will convince even ardent skeptics, he said.

For those who worry the ITU's recent treaty to regulate the Internet will spell the end of IT innovation--fear not. At least that was the advice of telecom attorney and former U.S. ITU delegation member Daniel Brenner. He told a CES audience that the ITU treaty signed last month will not have a major impact on Internet governance because the big players like the United States and Europe didn't sign it. Plus, the treaty language uses ambiguous terms such as "should."

Overall, CES 2013 has been a fun ride, much like the huge roller coaster that winds its way through the "buildings" of the New York, New York hotel across the street from my hotel room here in Las Vegas. For completed coverage of the CES show, check out FierceWireless' comprehensive coverage of the show.--Fred