I’m far from being a CES veteran. I think you need at least a decade of attending under your belt before you can call yourself that. But, I’m more than half-way there and put it on the GSMA Intelligence travel agenda in 2019. In part, that’s because CES has evolved beyond being a consumer show to look at everything from consumer technologies, to content and media, to enterprise digital transformation: if you’re trying to understand the evolving tech landscape, CES probably has something for you.

Beyond the evolution of CES, however, the evolution of the GSMA Intelligence content agenda is at play here. As we’ve expanded our focus on IoT, enterprise transformation and the digital consumer, a trip to CES is essentially mandatory.

Building on things like our massive survey of consumers around the globe, and our Future of Devices research (our most-read premium report of 2019), we go into CES 2020 with a solid idea of what we’ll see and what will be making headlines. We also go into the show with a clear set of questions we’re looking to learn, grouped around a core set of topics.

With 5G services moving from theory to reality in 2019, we got a glimpse of what the 5G future will look like. There are still plenty of questions about where it goes next, and how fast.

Phones and 5G. Will we see plenty of new 5G smartphones get launched? At prices affordable enough to drive 5G service adoption? Will flagship devices be 5G by default?

Phones and functionality. What types of features and functionalities will be table stakes in a 5G phone? What will 5G phones integrate in order to take advantage of 5G’s capabilities?

Beyond phones. Smartphones aside, what other form factors will we see 5G creep into? Tablets? Laptops? Cameras? Smart home devices?

Operator opportunities. Will we see operators fully leverage 5G as a component of their strategy to move deeper into consumer electronics and digital lifestyle businesses? How?

If it’s a connected device, but not a smartphone, tablet or laptop, is it necessarily an IoT device? CES probably won’t help with creating one true definition of IoT, but it will help chart the path to 25 billion connected devices.

Standards evolution. As IoT matures so do the standards. In order to scale the market, though, they need to be interoperable. Where will progress on this front go?

Smart home. Many people claim to be smart home adopters. For most, that’s only partly true. Will new innovations be compelling enough to drive more than one or two devices into the home? Will the smart speaker really be the controlling hub?

Platforms. Today, we’ve got multiple protocols, platforms and vendors. True fragmentation. There are signs the industry is coming together. Too little too late?

Operator opportunities. With so many players vying to take a lead in providing smart home solutions it is a tough space for operators to move into. Will we see some more attempts to capture this space and will these focus on the enterprise or consumers?

There’s a reason why it’s now called CES and not the Consumer Electronics Show. Enterprise solutions are an increasingly important part of the event. The organisers are keen to highlight the role of non-traditional exhibitors (think P&G, John Deere, and DuPont) and we’re keen to see what they tell us about digital transformation.

Drones, drones, drones. As unmanned vehicles capture the skies, will the primary CES focus be new use cases? Enabling innovations focused on security, management, and control?

Cars, cars, cars. Autonomous cars will again be on the show floor for, if only because they draw people into a booth. As with drones, the key question is where we’ll see the focus. New models and entrants, or ecosystem enablers focused on computing, sensors and entertainment?

5G and private networks. Dedicated, localised wireless coverage is in demand: operators, vendors and integrators are all targeting the opportunity. As CES embraces the enterprise, will we see this demand reflected? If not, does it say more about the opportunity or the CES enterprise focus?

Operator opportunities. Will operators show up at CES ready to make noise on the enterprise front and, if so, in what form? New service offers, partnerships, or end-to-end solutions?

Content and media
Among those non-traditional exhibitors is NBCUniversal, a clear nod to the role of media in the life of the digital consumer. But the CES focus on content is more than video.

XR, for real. How do we go from having tech-ready consumers to actual adoption of AR and VR technologies? If compelling use cases are key, will we see new use cases which promise scale in the next two or three years, and will these target consumers or enterprise?

Gaming glory. Gaming has always been a CES focus. Will we see mobile industry priorities like 5G, AR, and edge computing show up?

5G opportunities. How does 5G really fit with the future of content and media beyond connectivity? If it’s mostly around production, will that be enough to drive excitement?

Operator opportunities. Content in all its forms has been a major driver of mobile traffic and a major focus for operator service strategies. Will this be reflected at CES, if so, in which spaces and, if not, why not?

Everything else fun. When people (like non-work friends or tech-focused relatives) say they’ve always wanted to go to CES, it’s because they think it’s all about gadgets and fun technology demos. And, to be fair, a lot of the GSMA Intelligence team will be looking to understand which of those are not (strictly) work related.

National Pride. Just like MWC, the CES exhibit hall has its fair share of national delegations, highlighting national R&D priorities and favoured happy hour drinks. But is it beer, or wine or aquavit that is most conducive to innovation?

Google versus. Amazon. In 2019, Google and Amazon were in a battle to get their voice assistant technologies integrated in any and every possible connected device. How will that battle work out this year? Will it move into new territory?

Terry and Mandy. Yes, content is part of the GSMA Intelligence content agenda. No, attending the NBCUniversal Keynote on Wednesday with Mandy Moore and Terry Crews won’t strictly be informing that content. It may help with questions like whether or not Mandy will go back to singing or if Terry is really as massive as he appears on TV.

Green tech thinking. Sustainability is officially one of the conference topics. The sessions dedicated to it seem somewhat sparse, but quality always trumps quantity. Will that quality be apparent in what vendors come to talk about?

These aren’t the only questions to be asked (or answered) going into CES. However, as we look to get a grip on the shape of technology innovation circa 2020, they’re a place to start. If you’ve got others, shoot them our way (in the comments). We will be putting together a wrap-up analysis of our views post-show and it’s always helpful to see what’s on people’s minds.

– Peter Jarich – head of GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.