February 16, 2018

CES 2018: Our guide to surviving tech's biggest trade show

Author : Dean Takahashi / Publisher: VentureBeat

I've lost count how many times I've been to the Consumer Electronics Show, but I'm into my third decade for the big tech trade show. This year, I'm going to walk miles of exhibits again at CES 2018, the gigantic tech trade show in Las Vegas next week. This is my usual story that can help newcomers avoid some Vegas nightmares and hangovers.

Just like last year, the survival tips are affected by bag restrictions and entrance searches at all of the big venues. Once again, concerns about terrorism, especially in light of the Mandalay Bay shootings, have had an effect on what you can carry into the show. You can only carry two small laptop-size bags into the show.

And yes, I can no longer bring my trademark backpack roller (which my coworkers have dubbed my secret weapon in years past) into the event. (The media are granted an exception to this rule, but I wouldn't really bet on it.)

"At CES 2018, you will notice a more highly visible law enforcement presence throughout the show and at all venues," the show rules state. "Law enforcement officers and K9 (dog) units will be at both the entrances to the venues and on the exhibit floor. We will be performing random security checks on show premises."

The 51st annual show opens on Sunday, January 7, for the 6,500 or so press attending the show. The press events continue on January 8. But the 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 9. VentureBeat writers Stephanie Chan and Blair Hanley Frank will join me, and some of my colleagues will be comfortably watching livestreams at home.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the show, told me in an interview last month that the show will have more than 4,000 exhibitors across 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space.

This year, there are more exhibitors than last year showing drones, robots, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence products.

And we're also going to see a lot of wearables, virtual reality, robots, smart cars, health gadgets, 3D printers, and Internet of Things objects. Last year, the show drew 184,498 audited attendees, up from 177,000 the year before. This year, Shapiro expects a similar number, but the group is still trying to hold down unqualified attendees.

These numbers are a kind of bellwether for the tech economy, as no show spans the entire tech world the way CES does. Companies go there to be perceived as cool, and I go so that I can stay up to speed on the latest technology. We can expect to see more than 900 companies at the startup area, Eureka Park, in the Venetian hotel. That's up from 600 last year. At least 118 government leaders will be there, with no doubt many of them chatting about net neutrality's demise. Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, bailed on the event yesterday, however.

Apple doesn't attend the show, but just about every other tech giant does. It's where the tech industry will be next week, though it's not so much of a game event these days. If you're curious what I got out of last year's show, here it is.

Your CES survival tips

Above: Intel's booth at CES 2017.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Many of these tips are recycled from past years, but the new baggage rules and added law enforcement presence will likely slow things down a bit. You'll just have to travel lighter. Your bags will be subject to search. We survived that hassle a year ago, but don't forget to take possible delays into account when planning your schedule.

Shapiro noted, "Security, as it has been since I started, is always evolving depending on the world situation. We've come a long way in the 30 years I've been involved in that specific issue. The physical security issue, we spend a lot of time on it. We're always trying to do the best we can. We work local officials, the FBI, Homeland Security, and others pretty carefully."

One of the changes is that the badges will have photos on them, making identification easier and making it harder for people to share badges. You can only carry two bags, each smaller than 12 inches by 17 inches by 6 inches. You need a CES badge and a government photo ID. If you can, you should pick up your badge at the airport or one of these locations.

On your crowded flights, try to travel light. For Southwest, I always check in exactly 24 hours ahead of boarding. Check in your baggage if you don't have to get anywhere fast. Be prepared for long cab lines or rental car check-in lines. (Services like Uber and Lyft were very useful last year at CES, particularly as parking is not plentiful enough.)

Above: The Microsoft party at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Bring your comfortable shoes, and try to get sleep. If the parties are what you care about, check out the Karennet party list. Many of them are invite-only. Remember to swap phone numbers with the people you are meeting with so you can coordinate, particularly as someone is usually held up by the crowds for appointments. Incorporate drive and eating times into your calendar, or use a calendar that does that automatically for you (I'm still looking for one).

Smartphone reception is better than it used to be, but it's still probably prone to interference. Text message is usually a decent way to communicate with coworkers. We always seek out the Wi-Fi havens in the press rooms or wherever we can find them. But carry a MiFi or activate a personal hotspot if you can; even hotel Internet connections are likely to be stressed to the limit during the show. If you're responsible for uploading video, good luck with that.

If you collect a lot of swag, you can send it home via shipping services instead of carting it on the plane. You should print a map of the exhibit floor or rip one out of the show guide. You should also print your tickets, schedule, and RSVPs for events. You need a lot of battery backup for your laptop or smartphone, hand sanitizer, a good camera, ibuprofen, and vitamins. Bring a backup for everything, even if you have to leave it in your hotel room this year.

Pack enough business cards. If you're exhibiting, wear your company brand on your shirt. Try very hard to keep from losing your phone. I wear a jacket with zippered pockets so I can put my phone and wallet inside.

Make some time to walk the show floor. If the cab line has you frustrated, don't think about walking to a nearby hotel. Chances are the cab line there is also bad, and the hotels are so huge that a mirage effect makes them look deceptively close. If you have a rental car, try not to get stuck in a traffic jam in a 10-story parking garage.

Schedule your appointments in locations that are near each other. Arrive early for keynotes because the lines are long. Drink lots of water. Get some sleep -- you really don't have to party every night. Don't miss your flight on the way out. Pack up a bunch of snacks early on to avoid getting stuck in breakfast or lunch lines. Take a good camera because what happens in Vegas ... gets shared on the Internet.

What's happening when

Above: Merge VR shows its headset at CES 2017.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

And here's how we expect the news to unfold this week:


Lots of embargoed news will break Sunday through Thursday as tech companies try to catch some early buzz. The Consumer Technology Association analysts will open press-only sessions with sales stats and trend forecasts for 2018. The event officially kicks off in the afternoon with a press-only CES Unveiled reception, where scores of companies that have won innovation awards will be first to show off. You'll start seeing posts about cool stuff at that party on Sunday evening, particularly from all the tech journalists who are chained to tables at the party. I'll be heading over with some of the early press to Nvidia's press event, which take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jen-Hsun Huang will be talking a lot about artificial intelligence in self-driving cars, but hopefully he'll talk about graphics and gaming too. It's not really a keynote, but Nvidia evidently wants to steal the thunder at the show.


Above: Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Technology Association, said that about 165,000 people are attending CES 2017.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Media Day at CES has now morphed into a day and a half. It starts around 1 p.m. on Sunday and then runs from 8 a.m. to the early evening on Monday. LG kicks off the Monday press events at 8 a.m. This year, something new is a parallel event dubbed the CoinAgenda Summit, all about investing in Bitcoin and digital currency. Samsung will have a press event at 2 p.m. Monday, while Sony will start at 5 p.m. You should search for CES press event livestreams, particularly if you can't get in.

Most of the press events are at the Mandalay Bay, although Sony has its event at the Las Vegas Convention Center. These events are closed to non-press attendees, but we'll be writing posts about a lot of these events.

Brian Krzanich will host the official CES opening keynote on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Monte Carlo Park Theater. (Yes, if you go to the Venetian, you'll be in the wrong place.) At the keynote, the CTA's Shapiro will welcome the early crowd. I'll close the evening with the Pepcom Digital Experience party, a private event at the Mirage Hotel. When I meet people at a CES party, the most common question I get is "What did you see today?" It's a bit annoying as they're usually fishing for a story or gadget that they should see and pass on to their friends, but I don't mind it because it does cause me to sharpen my thinking about what I've witnessed for the day. Usually, sadly, it's nothing really important.


Above: CES 2017 drew an estimated 184,000 people to 2.6 million square feet of exhibits.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

At 10 a.m., the show floor formally opens at the big venues. The 11 locations are the Las Vegas Convention Center and World Trade Center, the Sands Expo, the Venetian, Aria, Monte Carlo, Vdara, The Palazzo Suites, Wynn Las Vegas, Encore at Wynn, the Westgate Las Vegas, and the Renaissance Las Vegas. Keynote speakers include Gary Shapiro of CTA; Jim Hackett, CEO of Ford; and Richard Yu, head of Huawei's consumer business group. Dell's press event is Tuesday morning.

We'll catch more product unveilings at the invite-only Showstoppers Party at the Wynn Hotel.

Some advice for walking the show floor. The Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) is cavernous. It stretches from the North Hall, where a lot of the car makers and speaker manufacturers gather, to the vast Central Hall and the multilevel South Hall. It's a couple of miles from one end to the other, so try to space out your appointments. You should really take the time to map out where you're going to walk and how long it will take to get there.

It's not easy to get from the LVCC to the Sands Expo during the rush period, but the CTA provides shuttle buses for that purpose. Parking is scarce, and you'll pay $20 or more for it each day.

When the exhibit floor closes at 6 p.m., there's a mad rush for the taxi line, the shuttle buses to major hotels, the parking garages, and the monorail. Try not to get stuck in gigantic traffic jams out on the Las Vegas Strip and anywhere else near the main convention center; maybe wait out the rush at a coffeehouse or hotel bar.


If you're still up for hearing talks, Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm, will speak from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Venetian's Palazzo Ballroom. Other speakers include Hans Vestberg of Verizon, Qi Lu of Baidu, and Sue Marek of SDxCentral. There is a gaggle of other folks speaking at other times. The show floor opens at 9 a.m.


Above: You could race with a big monitor and driving pod at Hisense's booth.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

I'm walking the show floor at the Sands and holding meetings at the Venetian on this day. I highly recommend that you hit just one major venue in a day, like the Sands or the convention center, and avoid going off site at all costs.


If you hate crowds, this may be the day to show up. The VB crew will be gone by this point, and we'll be home contemplating our picks for the top CES trends, the best products and services, and awesome images from the show. But the show floor will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you're smart, you'll take some painkillers and a vacation day before you return to work.

This article was written by Dean Takahashi from VentureBeat and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.