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Supercomm Goes With the Flow

There are two schools of thought regarding Supercomm 2003 this year. Some say it will be worse than ever, given the geopolitical climate and the outbreak of SARS. More pertinent, though, is the fact that, for several months, most companies have been pointing to Supercomm as one of the only places they're going to break out the marketing checkbook during 2003.

Supercomm officals aren't making any attendance projections yet, although the Supercomm 2003 Website currently lists 518 exhibitors. This may not be the final figure, but so far, it's well down on last year's 816 exhibitors and 2001's 853.

And yet Supercomm still ranks as by far the biggest and most important telecom show in the U.S.

Last year, Supercomm had 36,993 attendees from 106 countries and 484,500 square feet of exhibit space, while more than 440 press and industry analysts walked around and got lost in the vastness of it all.

In 2001, it had 52,822 attendees from 108 countries and occupied 537,490 square feet of exhibit space while 826 journos and analysts fought over the last stale bagel in the press lounge at exactly 9:26 a.m. every morning of the show.

This year, everyone will get a bagel. And, no, it won't be stale.

But though the numbers fell on all fronts, the percentage of folks from service providers and carriers stayed consistently in the 26 to 27 percent range both years -- a testament to how big a deal the show is to carriers (and those companies selling to them).

Why do service providers keep coming back? One reason is probably that the telecom industry is in flux. Uncertainty over what service providers need to sell in order to make a buck has made for a more interesting and diverse show.

Witness this year's Supercomm program that addresses all manner of broadband service, especially educational sessions on DSL and fixed wireless. Witness, too, some key service provider sessions and technology demos to help carriers make decisions on what equipment to consider in the next year. ("Can I get an Amen? Thank you. Praise Him!")

AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) chairman and CEO David Dorman will carry the torch for the wireline folk during his keynote on Tuesday, June 3, at 8:00 a.m. For cable operators, Patrick Esser, VP of operations at Cox Communications Inc. (NYSE: COX) and Richard Green, president and CEO of Cable Television Laboratories Inc. (CableLabs) will be delivering a joint keynote, in perfect barbershop harmony, on Wednesday, June 4, sometime between 8:15 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

For the untethered folks, Supercomm is touting a new Mobility Pavilion, where all manner of wireless LAN, mobile data, and other applications will be on display.

Speaking of pavilions, another new addition is the Export Assistance Pavilion, hosted by those lovable polyester-clad bean counters at the U.S. Department of Commerce. It couldn't come at a better time for equipment makers, given that broadband services are getting a quicker pickup in Asia and other regions outside North America.

One large theme to look for on the show floor, according to Infonetics Research Inc. analyst Michael Howard, is the proliferation of products that emphasize operational expense savings -- ones that combine multiple functions in a single box and automate operations, administration, and maintenance tasks.

Others are looking for more straightforward tech trends. "I am most interested in understanding the latest industry direction regarding packet voice and softswitch technology; next-generation OSS technology; multiservice edge technology; and optical networking technology," says Ben Vos, director of wireline technology development at Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON).

A continuing mainstay of Supercomm are the SUPERDemos, where you can see various technologies and pieces of equipment interacting with one another. For journalists, such demos also offer rough indications of which companies might make for interesting mergers so that, when there's a slow news day, we can phone a buy-side analyst and start some rumors. (Ha ha! Only kidding. Honest.)

This year, several organizations will be hosting SUPERDemos, including: the Broadband Content Delivery Forum (BCD); the Ethernet in the First Mile Alliance (EFMA); the International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC); the Metro Ethernet Forum; the MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance; the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF); and the Session Initiation Protocol Forum.

Another important thing to observe at Supercomm will be the number of companies that aren't on the attendee list. Given that so many cash-strapped firms are putting all their eggs in the Supercomm tradeshow basket this year, any vendor's absence will be conspicuous.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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