As a tech enthusiast, it’s become a yearly tradition to visit CeBIT Australia, and this year is no different. Just like last year, it is held over three days at Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park as the Exhibition and Convention Centre is undergoing a complete redesign. Today was the first day of the exhibition, and as an eager attendee, I made sure to arrive just before the showfloor opened at 10am to spend the whole day at the event.
This year, I appeared representing myself and this blog of mine, as a tech blogger, so it’s only appropriate that I report on my visit!
Compared with previous years, my attendance at the first day seemed somewhat subdued. There was a small crowd, but nothing too serious, and people were very freely moving around the stalls without any major crowds. Compared with previous years, it seemed the number of stalls may have reduced and the floor area seems a fraction smaller. Start-up companies are now given a much more respectable and less cramped “regular 1-unit” of space, rather than a half-unit.
Compared with last year, the mix of technologies has also changed. Last years’ over-crowded LED lighting corner was nowhere to be found today, and the country specific areas of former years seemed to have disappeared as well. The dominance of the Chinese companies in the past is toned back, although many of them are still present selling primarily fibre-based communication products. Some of the big names that were formerly at the exhibition touting cloud based solutions (e.g. Salesforce), computing products (e.g. Altech, now defunct, and Microsoft/Nokia) and security products were notably absent, resulting in a move from “big name” large shiny expo areas to more “regular sized” stalls.
The former focus on 3D printing was also noticeably absent, with those using 3D printers more focusing on applications rather than actually trying to sell 3D printing which is now commodity. The whole “drone” thing was also limited to just one notable vendor, so maybe the novelty factor of these technologies have begun to wear off.
Instead, we have a few new first-time exhibitors from overseas, and many exhibiting stalls dedicated to educational institutions (e.g. UNSW, Sydney TAFE, Sydney Uni, Western Sydney Uni, Newcastle Uni, etc) which suggests to me that maybe they had some problems trying to fill the floor with trade companies. Also notable was that there were more start-up companies exhibiting than in the past, which is admirable given the difficulty of being a start-up in Australia.
Many of the consumer-level brand stalls were noticeably absent this year – formerly we had the likes of Belkin and Linksys for example. Even some of the scientific equipment and data-handling equipment vendors were not around.
Because of the different mix of stalls, I felt that the staff on most of the stalls were much more approachable and active about engaging people passing-by in a courteous and appropriate manner. I didn’t experience any indiscriminate scanning of badges or being badgered to give up all of my details as I did last year, which was a nice change. That being said, I feel like there was less variety and less exhibitors compared to years back when it was held at Darling Harbour – but I hope this changes in the future.
Touring the Floor
Before I begin this section, I’d just like to note that my mention of a company does not imply my endorsement of the named company, their products or services. I have named them only because they have caught my interest and I had spent some time at their booth, so I thought I would share some of the things they had to say. Ultimately, it isn’t possible to go through each and every stall and their products, so here are just the stands that I spent a significant amount of time at, and that I feel are worth a quick mention.
It was interesting to see my university (UNSW) represented at three different stands – at Sunswift (an exhibition of our solar racing car), NewSouth Innovations and at the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre. Our solar car is a bit of a PR magnet, so it was nice to see it back at CeBIT over several years and still drawing a crowd. I had a very nice chat to the volunteer students there, sharing some of the common engineering-student gripes. The MCIC was also very exciting, as they offer 3D printing 101 courses which are always booked out and free access to 3D printers in the new Material Science and Engineering building. I had naturally assumed that these resources were constantly booked out and that the facilities were only for UNSW students – but surprisingly this was not the case. It is apparently open to anyone who has completed the necessary training and is a space which is more than just design with mentoring and consulting to help foster innovation. Knowing this, I’m sure they will become extremely popular in the near future.
I then decided to go around and visit my good mates at Icom Australia, who have been exhibiting many years, but this year, I was sad to see that some of their former staff were no longer with the company. They were exhibiting their Wi-Fi based radio infrastructure, but also had regular analog and NXDN capable sets for professional usage. Further to this, it was noted that they have a new IC-41PRO 80-channel 5W handheld CB unit, as well as an IC-450 car mounted transceiver with handset that has an LCD on it as well which is apparently an option for the Mazda BT-50 ute (but don’t quote me on that one). It’s interesting to see how small the new units are getting, but my old 40-channel IC-40S is still going, so that’s a pretty good sign.
Last year, Tesla Motors were also at CeBIT – this year, a Tesla was on the showfloor, but on exhibition for eveeh (a play on EV, short for electric vehicle), an electric car rental company. I suppose if you haven’t seen one before, or you haven’t sat in one before, here’s your chance!
Nearby, Virtual Reality Ventures which focus on VR technologies were exhibiting an IKEA simulation of a virtual kitchen you could tour around using an HTC Vive with its associated controllers. They also had an Oculus Rift unit, the personal unit belonging to one of their developers, on show along with the Samsung Gear VR and their own branded “Google Cardboard” clone, which they were willing to sell for $20 a unit (a bit pricey).
Another stand that caught my eye was that of Anker, a first time exhibitor looking for an Australian distributor. This company is quite reputed for their high quality intelligent power banks and chargers, and I have received numerous requests to review their products, but nobody ever sent or donated a unit for testing. It was fortunate that I had the chance to talk to them in person about this and it seems that I will be reviewing an Anker product shortly! Now all my readers can stop nagging me about it, and I can tell you exactly how the Anker products compare with the rest of them. Thanks to Anker for being so efficient about this and showing their complete trust in their product to let me have at it!
I also stumbled on the Multitech Systems stand, which was rather exciting for me as Multitech is a long-time company in the voice-band modem arena which have evolved to provide several wireless-link systems as well, based on the LoRa standard. I recognized the ZBA modem they had in the back – one of the few modems in the world that is still produced and supports V.34 Super-3G faxing. I had a great time talking to David Smith who was commenting on the technical radio aspects to do with their LoRa modules, and recounting his time at NASA’s JPL which left me in awe. It was a great chat!
I also had a very long conversation with the guys at the Apacer stand, Steve Ku and even a few random visitors who happened to walk by. Apacer is a brand that isn’t as commonly found on the consumer market in Australia, but I did have some fond memories of using their products in my early days in digital photography, and they were always known for good value products. They were exhibiting their industrial grade products, including CF, CFast cards, mSATA and M.2 cards, SATA plug-in modules, 2.5″ drives and other specialty form factors including 1.8″ ZIF, USB-header plug-in devices, etc. They explained to me about the tough consumer market, and the special engineering work they put in to industrial devices with special features. These include physical security tokens (urKey) that are matched to drives and can write protect, erase and destroy their respective SSDs when connected, their cloud based drive status monitoring, and the various different levels of security encryption and drive erasure techniques (CoreEraser) even up to a full destruction of the metadata on the drive rendering it unusable (CoreDestroyer). They also have various protection modes which include a “pseudo” write protect where the drive records changes but is not persistent – kind of like having a flash-based RAM drive. They were even willing to work with customers with particular needs to engineer variations to their standard products to meet their needs, showing me that they aren’t just “another” memory OEM that produces “standard” products without any in-house expertise.
While walking by, I also stopped in at the AKiPS start-up stand where they demonstrated their web-browser based system network monitoring solution that is cross-vendor, featureful and scalable. It was interesting to see the system running on FreeBSD on a NUC, but equally at home on a VM, showing very pretty historical data charts with 1-minute resolution through to three years, which I found quite impressive. Even more impressive is the fact that this was not a cloud-based system. In previous years, I’ve shown my disdain for “cloud” based solutions as the end user doesn’t own anything, and data which should stay in-house ends up being sent out to somewhere else. This can lead to massive headaches if you want data exported for a different analysis, or if the vendor goes under and takes the service down. As a result, I’m glad to see that some companies haven’t fallen down the as a service style trap.
Similarly, I had these sentiments when I visited BaQapp and saw their BackupBoxx, an ODROID based appliance with open-source software that performs local backup and mirroring over the network for disaster recovery. It’s definitely a faster, and more “secure” option than using cloud-based services where you have no certainty as to what it’s being stored on and whether it is vulnerable to disaster. You’re also less constrained by the speed of your internet connection, which, because of the way the NBN is, isn’t likely to see guaranteed fast upload speeds. However, how well the solution actually works, I’m not entirely sure, but this is probably something you could try to build yourself with a Raspberry Pi, albeit clunkier and slower.
I also stopped by Robobuilt, as they were another start-up that had a 3D printer running, and they were focusing on custom looms for custom fabric weaving that uses 3D printing as part of the manufacturing process. An interesting application, I thought.
I couldn’t help it, but I also stopped by the guys at Ruckus Wireless where we had a nice chat about the new 3.5Ghz LTE “unlicenced” business. It’s nice to see that MU-MIMO 802.11ac is all ready and deploying now, as last year, this was still something that was yet to hit primetime. Where the whole Wi-Fi standards will head is not entirely certain given that we haven’t exactly exploited all of the possibilities with 802.11ac (e.g. up to 8-spatial streams – the most we have today is four).
Speaking of that, Quantenna were back this year, again showing some of the CPEs that have integrated their quad-stream 802.11ac chipsets, although, again, the stand was a little quiet. Xirrus Wireless were also back, as they have been every year.
To top it all off, MyNetFone were also back this year, and I spent a lot of time at the stand talking to them about the Pennytel migration (thanking them for their hard work in keeping it afloat and keeping service continuity for everyone), the state of the NBN and a lot of off topic subjects. They exhibited, as in prior years, some of their Yealink desk phones, and their home and business VoIP/SIP trunking products. I enjoyed talking to them so much that I probably ended up consuming too much of their time. Oops!
Today, CeBIT opened its doors at 10am. I left the showfloor when it closed at 6pm. This year is the first year that I have spent all of my day at exhibition, and I enjoyed talking to each and every person I met. It’s a wonderful thing meeting like-minded people, sometimes in more than one way, and it’s always insightful to exchange knowledge and ideas in a way and at a level that I am rarely permitted to.
If you’re a tech enthusiast, or you run a business, it might be well worth your while to attend and see what the companies have on show. As with previous years, early-bird registration means free entry to the showfloor. However, if you’d like to visit, you might still be able to get some tickets via referral links and special promo codes which give you a full discount on the showfloor entry. I had another great day at the exhibition, and spent a lot more time on the floor than I expected. It was definitely a great day, and I look forward to seeing most of you again next year. Thank you all so much for your time!