Trade Shows: the Good, the Bad, and the Costly

Trade Shows: the Good, the Bad, and the Costly

Carol Wilson


DATA PACKET: Networks; vol. 2, no. 10

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I love trade shows. They represent the best of the telecommunications industry at a given moment, and give equipment and software vendors a prime opportunity to make a direct case to their customers.

I hate trade shows. They represent the worst of the industry, usually sacrificing substance to wasteful hype – “Here’s a T-shirt, buy my softswitch!” It doesn’t compute.

Here’s The Net Economy Online’s datebook of telecom-related trade

shows. Be there or be square:

I have mixed feelings about trade shows. They do draw many bright

people together in one place, and for a journalist, that can only be a

good opportunity for lively conversation. At their best, trade shows,

with their flashy exhibits, provide a reasonably level playing field

for technology developers to make an impression on potential buyers.

Carol’s rant was prompted by ComNet, in Washington, D.C. Here’s the

show’s site. Maybe it will explain why Tom Brokaw was a keynote

speaker – we have no idea, ourselves:

But as the telecommunications industry has grown, so has its trade

shows, and while growth represents profits for show sponsors, it

doesn’t always add value for exhibitors or even attendees. This week’s

ComNet conference and exhibition is a good example of that growth.

Arguably the granddaddy of all the communications-industry shows – at

23 years old, substantially older than even the largest

service-provider exhibition, Supercomm – ComNet represents the best

and worst of today’s trade-show environment.

There is already anticipation of a massive turnout at Supercomm in

Atlanta, and you can preview this show at:

It’s always a lively combination of service provider and enterprise

exhibitors and attendees, seasoned by the policy issues that dominate

the Nation’s Capital. At times this week, things were almost too

lively. It’s difficult to have a serious discussion about new software

for service provisioning when the magician in the booth next door has

the crowd roaring and the jazz trio across the aisle is warming up.

News junkies can get a ComNet news fix at,

although you must register, it’s free.

And serious issues were a foot at ComNet. Many of the service-provider

companies at which this exhibition is aimed are under serious pressure

to generate new revenues or face extinction. The show floor was

dominated by companies talking about ways to add Internet

Protocol-based services to networks, and the means to provision, test

and ensure reliability for those services. Virtual private network

capabilities abound. AT&T used ComNet to tout its data-services

portfolio, including new hosting services.

Here’s more information about the new AT&T services:

WorldCom launched wireless Internet and IP Communications services,

the latter focused on migrating all services onto an Internet Protocol

backbone and using VPNs.

WorldCom details its approach to “Generation D” – its new branding

campaign – on its site, which features Vint Cerf’s latest perspective

on what the Internet will become:

Even as they write big checks, however, equipment vendors are

complaining about the expense. It reminds me a little of major

sports-franchise owners, warning of impending financial doom even as

they continue to bid up the value of the Alex Rodriguezes of the world

to astronomical levels.

Of course, most serious business at trade shows takes place behind

closed doors or around restaurant tables. At the very least,

exhibitors can get exposure to a much wider range of potential

customers. That exposure comes at a high price. An executive at one

digital subscriber line (DSL) equipment company, which chose not to

exhibit at ComNet this year, said a show like this one would cost his

company $250,000 or more in booth rental, construction fees and travel

costs for employees. Clearly, some of the more elaborate exhibits are

even more expensive.

Here’s a planning resource for trade shows. Increasingly, companies

are trying to save on the heavy cost of exhibiting:

That may explain why larger companies such as Nortel Networks and

Lucent Technologies weren’t at ComNet this year. With highly focused

exhibits like the upcoming Optical Fiber Conference growing

substantially, equipment vendors are picking and choosing their

exhibit opportunities. That could lead to a more-rational trade-show

experience, even for those, like me, who may complain about the strain

of large shows, but won’t consider just not showing up.

Here’s the planning site for the Optical Fiber Conference:


Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in The Net Economy.