How to Save Supercomm

If Supercomm is to resume its place as the telecom industry’s premier tradeshow and conference, the event has to be bigger and more effective than last week’s meeting in Chicago. To understand how that might be possible, however, you have to consider Supercomm’s history – not the recent history with annual changes in the name, date, and sponsorship of the show that created the limbo in which Supercomm now slowly twists, but its origins going back to 1988. (See Supercomm Reborn!, Supercomm 2009 Delayed Until October, and Supercomm Faces the Music.)

The telecom world was a very different place then. Three years after divestiture created seven regional operating companies and 22 different Bell units out of the monolith that was AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), there was ample reason for a single national tradeshow and conference to be held. For the first time, there was one Washington lobbying organization representing the telecom industry – as opposed to one for Ma Bell and one for independent telcos, which held their own regional shows scattered around the country. There were numerous vendors for whom divestiture meant the possibility of selling into Bell units that once were bound to AT&T’s own manufacturing arm. Having one massive tradeshow would give them exposure as well, and they were eager to exhibit.

Even then, however, Supercomm was not a slam-dunk success. I remember events held in places like Anaheim and Houston that were so sparsely attended they made last week’s event look healthy. Usually that happened because the local Bell company wasn’t in full support. Though no one would confirm this at the time, I always thought Supercomm landed in Atlanta for a prolonged period primarily because BellSouth did support the show and brought its people out.

Then, of course, the Internet boom hit and Supercomm soared on the energy of seemingly hundreds of startup companies, carriers and vendors alike. Since the bust, Supercomm has struggled to achieve its former relevance, for a lot of reasons:

  • With all the consolidation, the telecom industry is back to a much smaller number of companies, and the biggest of those companies – AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) – hardly need a tradeshow to see vendors.

  • Unlike other industry segments such as cable, telecom players compete with each other and aren’t as likely to rally together at an annual party and industry-boosting affair.

  • Then there’s the wireless beast, the one consuming the access lines and taking over the board rooms of major players. Where does wireline stop and wireless start? Who cares?
The folks backing Supercomm – show organizers and sponsors alike – need to stop and think about what this industry still needs in an event. There is an obvious need for an annual conference. Until it was bitten by the tradeshow bug, the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) used to hold a fall conference that brought in all the top telco execs and was probably the industry’s most interesting event. Instead of Supercomm’s almost overwhelming programming choices, however, it had a very focused and well attended set of general and breakout sessions. Given the backdrop of resurging federal interest in telecom and broadband, a Washington-based policy conference would make a lot of sense.

There may still be need for an exhibit as well, but it needs to be more focused on emerging technologies, evolving standards, and exposure of vendors to the Tier 2, Tier 3, and even smaller telcos that don’t otherwise see all that technology.

To succeed, Supercomm has to be relevant. But it also has to directly address the needs of the population it is trying to serve and stop trying to be all things to all people, in hopes of attracting a few more warm bodies.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:53:32 PM
re: How to Save Supercomm odo, you weren't there, but did you really miss it?
rahat.hussain 12/5/2012 | 3:53:32 PM
re: How to Save Supercomm


insightful post and much needed debate on this topic. one suggestion is to combine supercomm with ofc. then you can get the entire food chain of component, subsystem, and system vendors along with the carriers in one place. maybe even combine it with the biggest cable show, whatever that is!

one question though, does anyone have the final numbers on attendees and the breakdown (carriers, system vendors, component vendors)? if not, why not? is supercomm not releasing these numbers?

odo <- who missed supercomm for the first time in ... wow, 15 years!

rahat.hussain 12/5/2012 | 3:53:31 PM
re: How to Save Supercomm


of course i missed the adva and adtran parties! fewer people, more beer for me.


Mersault 12/5/2012 | 3:53:18 PM
re: How to Save Supercomm Ms. Wilson makes some good points about understanding an event's origins to find clues to its future. As Ms. Wilson states in her article - if I read it correctly - the US landscape has changed significantly since the birth of Supercomm, a new industry order has evolved, so one must ask - is there still a need for such a resource intensive and broad-based, central meeting point? It's vital that the organisers keep in mind that an event exists to serve a need, not to create one. My question to Ms. Wilson and Light Reading is - if you were responsible for organising Supercomm, what would it look like?
DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:53:18 PM
re: How to Save Supercomm come to ethernet expo next week and you can get a sense of what a smaller scale LR event looks like. whatever the size, we'd bring a better content focus for sure. and the trade show floor would have a point, besides being a pressure group money grab.
Mersault 12/5/2012 | 3:53:17 PM
re: How to Save Supercomm Now Phil, please don't go all "Spinal Tap" on me. I've got an image of Stone Henge being winched into the middle of your exhibition floor ;-) How many are you expecting?
On another note - I hear Google have taken over Orange - although don't quote me. I switched on my "smart"phone this morning and instead of the Orange logo as usual, I got Google Homepage. About time, I agree - but what does this say for that hard earned brand - "Orange" that is.
Mersault 12/5/2012 | 3:53:15 PM
re: How to Save Supercomm I'm sure Ethernet Expo will be great as usual. I hear the MEF's CEW APAC event has 300 pre-registered attendees too. Kuala Lumpur is a bit of a trek though. I can't get to either event unfortunately.
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