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Cisco speech reflects Net revolution

Timing is everything, according to chief executive John Chambers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS--In the world according to Cisco Systems, timing is everything.

That was the main message Cisco chief executive John Chambers gave attendees at a keynote speech to kick off day two of the Consumer Electronics Show here. The mantra he repeated several times to the packed audience is one that Cisco has taken to heart as it continues to build its own business: "If you're too late in the market, you get left behind. Too early, and you have a noncompetitive offering."

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When worlds collide Chambers should know. Until only recently, few would have imagined that an executive from a networking equipment maker would be delivering a keynote address to an industry conference that has focused traditionally on such products as TV sets and stereos.

The executive compared the Internet's astronomic growth to the Industrial Revolution, saying that it would have "the same impact on society, companies, and individuals." The difference, he noted, is that the Internet revolution will occur in a far shorter period.

Reflecting his company's relatively new consumer focus--which is apparent in television commercials featuring children all over the world asking, "Are you ready?"--the presentation drove home the explosive growth he is expecting in the consumer space for networked technologies from smart appliances to entertainment devices and wearable systems.

Chambers laid out Cisco's own strategy for the home, which includes offering high-speed Internet access via partnerships with service providers; partnering with more consumer-focused companies that create home-oriented technologies to get those devices network-ready; and licensing Cisco's technology to others.

Many of Cisco's plans center around its announcement yesterday that along with partners such as Sony and Samsung, it has developed cable modems with voice-over-IP capabilities that offer high-speed data, voice, and video connections. The modems will be sold under the Cisco NetWorks brand name.

Chambers often referred to the Internet when discussing various types of networks.

"The Internet is synonymous for all types of networking" because eventually many types of data will be able to enter the home over a variety of networks, but those underlying networks will not be apparent to users, he said.

During the speech, Chambers demonstrated some of the Internet protocol-based features he expects homes to have in the near future, using a mock living room set-up. The living room demo and the remote browser access utilized LonWorks Technology by Echelon.

In the simulated living room, Chambers demonstrated the home networking capabilities by turning on a television and a streaming video application on a PC as well as making a phone call, all through one line into the "home."

He described the many conveniences that could be made possible with home networking, such as the ability for a user to turn on the air conditioning or heat at home via a Web browser.

On a lighthearted note, Chambers demonstrated technology from a company called QRS that allows a user to program a musical instrument to play MIDI songs selected on a browser.

During the presentation, he chose a song on a browser and a piano and violin in the "living room" began to play. He also showed off a feature that allows a user to choose the ambiance for a room. When Chambers selected "Romantic Evening," the lights dimmed, the instruments began playing, the shades were drawn, and a fire started in the fireplace.

Chambers noted that his message about timing and the company's strategy are closely tied, because the pace of Internet acceptance has been so fast.

"The acceptance of [Internet] technology has been at a rate faster than any of us dreamed," he said, adding that the adoption of the technology has been six times faster among consumers than the telephone, and four times faster than personal computers.

Among the other vast changes Chambers said will be brought on by the explosion in home networking and more bandwidth are as follows: free telephone service over IP; profound changes in education; the creation of a "level playing field for all companies and countries"; the "death of time and distance" as users access information when they want it and communicate in real time; and the true globalization of people and businesses.