It's been an exciting -- and busy -- year for networking and storage, two very important categories in consumer electronics. Important because they are at the core of information technology -- without either, most or all of your gadgets will come to a grinding halt. And as far as I know, we haven't yet seen the limit of what they can do.
That said, here is a quick roundup of the current state of this sector and what we can expect, based on my educated guesses, heading into CES 2013.
This year will be remembered as the year that 802.11ac (or 5G Wi-Fi) became a reality. Or rather, half of it did. That's because while there have been a decent number of routers supporting this new standard from all major networking vendors, there are still no hardware clients, such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops, that have 802.11ac built in. This means that, for now, most consumers still have no practical experience with the benefits of this faster wireless standard.
It's predicted that the first 802.11ac devices, including 802.11ac adapters (either USB or PCie) that quickly add 802.11ac to existing computers will be introduced at CES 2013. This means that you won't need to get an entirely new computer to enjoy faster wireless connections. Currently most of the existing 802.11ac adapters are bulky media bridges that are cumbersome to use.
On top of that, you can also expect even more networking vendors to join the 802.11ac movement, offering routers with more features -- and hopefully better prices. It generally takes a few years for a new Wi-Fi standard to become mainstream, and 2013 will be the first year on the clients' side.
While 802.11ac is currently the fastest Wi-Fi standard on the market, it's by no means the be-all or end-all of Wi-Fi. In fact, there's a new standard called WiGig that operates on 60Ghz and offers wireless speed up to seven times faster than the wired Gigabit Ethernet standard. It's predicted that WiGig will be demonstrated at CES 2013, with the first integrated products used in real-world scenarios. We'll find out if it will replace 802.11ac or offer a new type of wireless connection applications.
The cloud gets larger
During 2012, the integration of home networks with the cloud -- a feature that allows for easy management of a home network via the Internet using browsers or mobile devices -- was a reality with Cisco's Linksys EA router series (that use the Cisco Connect Cloud platform) and D-Link Cloud routers, such as the DIR-605L. It's predicted that this movement will continue, and there will be more networking devices that can be managed via the cloud. Further, there will be more you can do with the home network beyond just changing the router's settings while being out and about.
Thunderbolt and USB 3.0
The latest peripheral standard, Thunderbolt, became popular among external storage devices in 2012 -- and it was no longer exclusively a Mac thing. 2012 was also the year that USB 3.0 became available for Macs.
With that in mind, you can expect more Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 storage devices to be introduced at CES 2013, especially those that support not one but both of these standards. It's likely that Thunderbolt software drivers for Windows will be more widely available, enabling existing Thunderbolt storage devices to work with Windows-based computers.
Solid-state drives (SSD)
Solid-state drives came into their own in 2012, with many new drives being introduced and a number of portable computers shipping with an SSD preinstalled. And at CES 2013, manufacturers of memory chips will likely introduce even more SSDs, offering consumers better, and most importantly, more affordable options.
The integration of storage and networking
Portable wireless storage expander
A typical example of a product that combines both networking and storage is the Seagate GoFlex Satellite, which allows you to carry a large amount of digital content with you and stream it to tablets and smartphones via a Wi-Fi connection. You can almost be certain to expect the next generation of this type of device at CES 2013.
While NAS servers, such as those from Synology or QNAP, have matured in the last few years, offering not just large amounts of storage capacity and fast performance but also lots of features. At CES 2013, it's predicted that NAS vendors will introduce even more features, especially the support for TV recording and a new level of ease-of-use. These network storage devices really need to be more user-friendly to work well for home and novice users.
I can also almost guarantee that new routers with advanced support for network storage, similar to the Asus RT-N66U, will be introduced at CES 2013. This type of router makes a great entry-level NAS server.
Network media streamer
Network media streamers are probably the most fun combination of networking and storage. Devices like the WD TV, or the Roku, have been entertaining many consumers -- myself included -- over the last few years. At CES 2013, expect the next generation of these devices, which will offer more options and better support for different streaming standards and services.