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Optical/IP

OFC puts on a brave face as Ciena backs out of industry shows

The Optical Fibre Conference (OFC), a trade show and exhibition for the optical networking industry, has been up and running for the past 40 years. Today, the show had its first major vendor cancellation due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

Ciena, one of the world's leading optical networking vendors and an anchor tenant of the OFC show floor, has said it won't be turning up.

"Ciena is canceling its plans to exhibit and participate at the upcoming Capacity Middle East 2020 event, scheduled to take place March 2-5 in Dubai, and the upcoming OFC 2020 event, scheduled to take place March 9-11 in San Diego, in both cases due to growing concerns about and the continued spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus," Ciena said via a statement on its website.

OFC, as an industry event, is a rare combination of a technical conference and a business exhibition – a place where you can just as easily run into doctoral students, career engineers and CEOs. It's a delightfully odd attendee mix that blends together nicely as everyone consumes the latest specs and speculation about our big-bandwidth fiber future. Carriers organize the technical sessions; vendors and components makers turn up on the exhibit floor and they have to be ready to talk to anyone – from a global telco exec to a gaggle of students.

The OFC 2020 organizers aren't flinching in the wake of Ciena's withdrawal. Here's the official statement, emailed to Light Reading and attributed to no one in particular:

"We are excited to confirm that OFC 2020 is still on and going strong. The conference will be held as planned March 8-12 in San Diego, California with a high-quality technical program and exhibition. OFC Management is fully committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for all OFC attendees. We respect Ciena’s decision and will continue to support the many exhibitors who plan to attend the conference and exhibition. We expect the show floor to be as busy as ever. The list of confirmed exhibitors can be found on the OFC website."

An industry source told Light Reading that Ciena is walking away from more than a dozen speaking opportunities and usually brings well over 100 people to OFC – a mix of salespeople, marketing folks, engineers and executives.

Huawei, another company that exhibited at OFC in 2019, will have people attending the show but won't have a booth on the show floor at OFC 2020. OFC's organizers didn't name Huawei, but noted that the show's usual number of attendees from China would be way down. "Some Chinese exhibiting companies have determined that they will be unable to exhibit, while other Chinese exhibiting companies may utilize non-China based staff, or sales representatives/distributors with knowledge of their products and services to represent them," the show said via a statement on its site dated February 13.

"The top two [optical networking] hardware vendors in the world won't have a booth there," said Cignal AI Lead Analyst Scott Wilkinson. "That is a big deal."

Wilkinson, who has been attending OFC in all its various iterations since he was a grad student in the early 1990s, said Ciena has been a key OFC presence for years. "On both sides of the aisle – the technical and marketing side – it's a big loss… They were the ones talking about WDM back when no one else was."

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Phil Harvey, US Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Phil Harvey 2/25/2020 | 6:17:53 PM
Re: Potential legal liabilities To put your mind at ease, it does seem like the OFC conference folks are thinking through the risks and trying to keep folks safe.

Check out their page by going to the show's main URL and putting in en-us/home/about/covid-19-faq/ after it in your browser.

The outstanding question is whether companies decide that the potential hassle of sending employees is ultimately not worth it. That's a different risk calculation and the show officials really can't control that decision process.

-ph
FiberX 2/25/2020 | 5:33:10 PM
Potential legal liabilities Both OFC orgenizers and participating companies should consider the potential legal liabilities if god forbid participants will be later found infected tracked back to participating at the show. Law suits may be quite significant in case of fatalities and claims for contributing criminal negligence may be an addition. I think OFC and participating companies should consider well the risks.
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