Mixed fortunes at quiet ITU Telecom 2003

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom World 2003 exhibition and conference last month focused on getting down to business, restoring confidence, and building growth, according to Yoshio Utsumi, ITU secretary-general). Chief executives, government regulators, and telecommunications ministers participated in the forum sessions, which included six days of presentations and debate on critical industry issues ranging from broadband and mobility to new business models and new sources of revenue.

The number of exhibitors and visitors was down from the previous event in 1999, when it took place at the height of the dot-com bubble, but the ITU optimistically maintained that "qualified traffic and high business value were features of the 2003 event."

The absence of many leading global telecom companies and equipment manufacturers had some industry observers questioning the event's purpose and whether it will continue.

Until 1999, exhibiting at the show had been a must for companies hoping to succeed in the market. This year's event attracted 915 exhibitors, including 27 pavilions, from more than 50 countries. But France Telecom, Alcatel, Deutsche Telekom, WorldCom, Pirelli, Ericsson and Corning, which had some of the more impressive booths in past years, were among the most noticeable absentees this year.

Nevertheless, Jean-Claude Delcroix, research director for telecommunications research EMEA at the Gartner Group, bravely commented, "The reduction in attendance this year favoured personal interaction between participants and led to more businesss networking. What we saw was a stronger emphasis on the market implementation of business models and technologies rather than innovation."

Explanations for non-attendance ranged from economic troubles and high exhibition costs to dissatisfaction with the ITU's effectiveness and even the obsolescence of the event. In the case of the French, some analysts said it was a question of prestige. French companies did not want to have more modest booths and risk having people saying they had scaled down due to financial problems. But the main reason companies said they did not attend was the event has become just another international trade show.

"The big difference between ITU Telecom World 1999 and this year is that it is more businesslike," said FLAG Telecom chief operating officer Edward McCormick. That theme was echoed by Exhibit Surveys president Skip Cox, who was quoted in the show's daily newspaper: "People have been using the event for very closely focused networking, and in my opinion that's the future of the exhibitions business."

Major announcements at the show included BT's EUR100-million contract with "3" in Ireland to build and operate its 3G radio access network, ACE*COMM's multimillion-dollar deal with Giza Systems to provide a country-wide data collection solution for Telecom Egypt, and Nortel Networks' supply agreement estimated at USD30 million over three years with Israel's Pelephone to expand its 3G wireless data network.

Other deals included Quarry Technologies providing carrier class security service routers to Dacom, one of Korea's leading service providers; the European Commission's investment of EUR3.8 billion over the next four years in key areas, including microelectronics, nanotechnology, and e-health; and FLAG Telecom's USD207-million amalgamation deal with Reliance Gateway Net Private Ltd.

Announcements of partnership agreements included Microsoft creating mobile Web services standards with Vodafone; Boingo Wireless's deal with PicoPoint, an Amsterdam-based global Wi-Fi hot-spot enabler; Hewlett-Packard's announcement with Alcatel of advanced business services to the SMB market; and Samsung Electronics' agreement with Orca Interactive, Optibase, and Kasenna to provide a triple-play solution for video over xDSL services.

Two of the show's larger exhibit stands were Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp., both Chinese companies—not surprising given that China has now become the world's largest telecom market (measured by number of subscribers). "As China's largest telecommunications vendor, the show was a good opportunity for us to merge into the international telecommunications industry and a positive step forward in our goal of becoming a global company," said Huawei's Richard Lee.

More in Market Research