Get ready for the smart keg

Connected devices are a hot topic at this year's wireless conference. CNET talks to Sprint about a few devices that will be getting a cellular hookup down the line.

A video kiosk running on Sprint's network on display at the CTIA Enterprise & Application show. Roger Cheng/CNET

SAN DIEGO--In case you didn't know, connected devices--or gadgets with a built-in cellular connection--are a big thing.

They've been a focus here at this year's CTIA Enterprise & Applications show. AT&T executive Glenn Lurie called it "the next big thing" in the wireless industry yesterday. His boss, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, reiterated the sentiment today at the keynote address. Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead also talked up its position in the connected devices business.

The GSM Association and Machina Research said the addressable market for the wireless industry could be worth $1.2 trillion (yes, trillion) by 2020.

E-readers, digital picture frames, and vehicle tracking devices are obvious examples of connected devices. Tom Nelson, an executive in Sprint Nextel's emerging solutions group, talked about some of the more unorthodox connected devices. The carrier should know; it helped pioneer the original Amazon Kindle business model, which folded in the cellular cost into the purchase price of the digital book.

Smart keg: A team up in Sprint's Burlingame, Calif., facility is working on a kegerator that can monitor the beer volume, carbon dioxide level, the type of beer dispensed, and how many times a tap is pulled. Nelson noted that the project drew in an unusually high number of team members. I wonder why. (Unfortunately, the keg wasn't on display at the show.)

Video kiosk: A connected kiosk with a high-definition display at a store allows customers to come up and ask a remote sales clerk for help. Updated information can be beamed to the kiosk in real time depending on the situation.

A reader monitors your blood glucose and blood-oxygen levels. Roger Cheng/CNET

Health monitor: On display at the show was a reader and monitor that looks at a person's blood glucose level, blood oxygen level, and other relevant stats. The information is recorded and can be viewed by the individual or sent to his or her doctor. Sprint says a trial had a number of the readers placed in taxi cabs. Apparently, cab drivers have notoriously bad health conditions. The technology could be used to detect early signs of hypertension, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Connected blender: Commercial-grade blenders found in smoothie stores could benefit from a wireless connection, which can send out alerts when maintenance is required. Nelson said Sprint is working with a small company to build one.

Vending machines: Similarly, vending machines with a wireless module could send updates on how well a particular soda is selling, or whether a refill is needed. Companies running those machines can get a more accurate gauge of which products to stock and which to dump.

Oil tanks: Even something as simple as a drum of oil could use a wireless connection, which would track the volume levels (much like the keg).

"Reefers": No, it's not what you think. It's industry lingo for a refrigerated truck, which is used to carry an assortment of goods such as produce. Reefers could benefit from a device that tracked both the location and temperature of the goods to ensure they are delivered on time and unspoiled.