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Optical/IP Networks

Gearheads: The Shows Must Not Go On

A group of equipment vendors is starting to pressure the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) and Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) to consider reconciling on the divorce that broke up the industry's largest tradeshow, Supercomm.

What's at stake? Several vendors are threatening to pull their exhibit dollars from TelecomNext in 2007 unless USTelecom and TIA can find a way to work together. TelecomNext, held annually in Las Vegas, is USTelecom's show, and Globalcomm, held in Chicago, is the TIA's effort.

The draft of a remarkable letter has surfaced that brings the issue to a boil -- and if the vendors listed in the letter stay true to the expressed sentiment, it could have a huge impact on both the TelecomNext and Globalcomm shows in the future.

A draft of an unsigned, unsent letter, obtained by Light Reading, is addressed to Walter McCormick, president of USTelecom. The language of the letter is strong and indicates that those that do sign it will mean business.

"The split of Supercomm into two general telecom industry tradeshows – TelecomNext and Globalcomm – can not be supported financially by our organizations," says the letter. "The attendance, booth traffic and lead generation results of these shows in 2006 did not result in an acceptable return on investment.

"If we are to continue to realize a vibrant industry, we will be best served by a single robust tradeshow," it continues. The vendors request that the TIA and USTelecom "quickly negotiate a complimentary agreement to create a single annual general telecom tradeshow."

Background: The TIA and the USTelecom split on their Supercomm partnerhip in 2005, instead strking out with their own shows. Light Reading polls have reflected some discontent with the splitting of Supercomm into two smaller shows. (See Dueling Tradeshows, Tradeshow Turmoil, and Show Wars .)

The two new shows had disappointing debuts, when compared with the final Supercomm show. USTelecom suffered from slow show floor traffic and attendance that dwindled as the conference wore on. Globalcomm had the reverse happen: Its show started slow and got busier as the week went on. But even after Globalcomm raised its audited attendance figure from 17,200 to 18,300 on June 7, the show still fell well short of its predicted 20,000 attendees. (See What's Next for TelecomNext? and Globalcomm 2006: In Pictures .)

Many equipment vendors have told Light Reading that they simply can't support two shows in 2007, and that they likely will either pick one or pull out entirely. By being forced to support two shows, many equipment vendors needed to set aside more marketing budget.

The authors of the draft letter to USTelecom say they won't "undertake the financial burden of a dual tradeshow situation in 2007.

"We plan to support TelecomNext 2007 only through potential funding of sponsorships, educational opportunities, and hospitality. We will not be contracting to exhibit our equipment/services on the TelecomNext show floor. We plan to exhibit our products and services at Globalcomm 2007. We believe this is the optimal course of action for our companies, our customers, press, and analysts."

That could be a big deal for TelecomNext, considering that several of the firms listed in the letter were among the show's top ten largest booths, according to its 2006 show floor map. If most of those vendors pull out of the TelecomNext, it could hurt the show's chances of surviving.

The letter has signature spaces listed for the following vendors:

Sources say the signatures are being collected now and the letter will be mailed by the end of this week. It's important to note, though, that not every vendor listed will be signing the letter. Some spokespeople even expressed surprise that their companies were among those listed.

The vendors who wrote to USTelecom's McCormick said they'll write a letter to TIA president Matt Flanigan as well, encouraging him and the TIA to come back to the bargaining table.

TIA representatives say they haven't received anything yet from the vendors.

USTelecom representatives say they have no comment.

Several vendors contacted for this piece -- including Calix and ADC -- didn't respond to requests for comment on the letter.

Other vendors say they haven't made any decisions about their involvement in the dueling tradeshows. "As you know, we attended both shows last year and had good results from both," says Cisco spokesman Wilson Craig. "That said, our plans for next year are not yet set. We are currently evaluating and prioritizing all marketing opportunities for next year. We continue to be engaged with both USTelecom and TIA at senior levels and are in direct communication with both as part of our ongoing relationship and dialog on issues of mutual interest with these industry leaders and influencers."

A Juniper spokeswoman was more direct and endorsed the idea of the letter. "I don't think it makes sense for two tradeshows to battle it out when the rest of the industry is consolidating," she says.

One top-tier vendor representative who requested anonymity confirmed the letter's contents and added: "Several exhibiting and sponsoring vendors met at Globalcomm to assess the impact of these two events… The gist of the letter is to express our desire to have USTelecom and TIA come back together to quickly negotiate a complimentary agreement to create a single annual general telecom tradeshow.

"We understand this news may take these association’s plans down a new path," the big vendor rep says. "But bringing this issue to light collectively and openly working through this issue is the best for everyone."

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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