Ingram Micro starts tech fair tour in Great White North

The first of three digital signage technology days that Ingram Micro is running around the country this month went off in Toronto yesterday, with maybe 100 people or so taking in a bunch of show and tells with vendors, and then moving around a micro trade show.

There is another one next week in Vancouver, and the following week in Montreal.

I was among the speakers allowed to spout nonsense and tell my captors about my masters shiny pots and pans. Among the others: Alchemy, Samsung, eK3, Ergotron and ICG. Ingram did this last fall, with the idea of educating resellers and people coming into the space.

Among the stuff that was interesting to me – Samsung is rolling out a new LCD panel that has just an 11 mm bezel, which for you non-metric Luddites is maybe a 7/16s of an inch and means tiling a few of these together in a videoi wall doesn’t look butt-ugly, like it does with conventional, much wider bezels.

They are also releasing commercial panels that come in somewhat sexier high-gloss piano black finish, and ones that have TV tuners and speakers, something normally the domain of consumer grade displays.

EK3 announced some sort of digital signage in a box thingdoodle aimed at the small to medium business market, but I had to be somewhere else in the building as that went on. It’s an interesting move, as the London, Ontario-based company is more known for chasing big enterprise accounts.

The fair was my first chance to hear about Internet Connectivity Group, or ICG, which has been doing the trade show circuit making noise about a solution that combine mobile broadband connectivity and audio/video over the wireless spectrum to get digital signage into locations.

The premise is 3G/4G mobile broadband is now well established in North America and the rates are at a point where it is an affordable and hassle-lite alternative (when compared to the well-documented horrors of working with phone companies to get DSL in) for getting high speed in place for new networks.

There is then a box on site that sends the signal output from the media player engine around to screens using audio/video over wireless, with ICG saying 1080P is good to a radius of 150 feet and 720P to 200 feet.

Now, this is in perfect conditions and just like wireless networking, actual performance depends a lot of environmental conditions. They had a demo running, which looked fine, but the real test is seeing this stuff working in public deployments with lots of walls and fixtures and metal and other wireless things happening in the building. If it’s solid, touchdown. If it’s shaky or intermittent, it’s a no-go.

The box that runs all this has a PC, WiFi router and wireless AV transmitters all built in. The signal is received by what they call ViFi Adapters. The notion is that PC in this unit has the horsepower to also run  a third-party DS playout software application.

The box is a big mother, which would leave me a little concerned when it comes to deploying in retail – where space is often limited and perilous. But if that’s not a biggie, this is an interesting alternative for companies looking to deploy rapidly, knowing cable and DSL broadband are not good options. Data plans in the US are low enough that this sort of thing can compare favorably with more conventional broadband.

Not really so in Canada, however, where the people who sell data plans have eyepatches and parrots on their shoulders, and say “Arrrr!” a lot.

ICG COO Gordon Davidson, when asked about the challenge of trying to build business in Canada, said he was negotiating a deal with one carrier up here that would see unlimited for about $120 a month.

Now for anyone here in the tundra who has had their wireless bills delivered by forklift, $120 doesn’t sound too bad in relative terms. It is still more than DSL, cable or Wimax, but not crazily so.

But compare this to the US, where Sprint will sell you unlimited for $50.  THAT’S the price point at which mobile broadband gets really attractive, but whether Canada’s wireless carriers will ever see fit to get near those rates is a big open question.

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