Times are tough, which is why the industry needs to get together, reflect and move on.
I realize companies are cutting back on travel, so some people who normally attend the spring CTIA show will be staying home. I also realize that every year, the question comes up: Can the industry support so many trade shows?
Let’s review a few of the major wireless conventions so far this year. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicked off trade show season right after the holidays. It’s gigantic – more than 100,000 attendees. But you have to look for the mobile phones. I recall getting lost in one giant consumer electronics maker’s booth before I ever found the relatively small area devoted to mobile phones. I wonder how many people are in the market these days for a 103-inch plasma TV? Personally, I’m probably more likely to spend $50 on a phone if I have any disposable income at all.
So wireless is a relatively small percentage of that overall show. Fast forward to February, and there’s no question, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) is all about mobile. Of course, it’s in Barcelona, Spain, where I swear, the hotels jack up their rates by some astronomical percentage to welcome those of us paying $800+ to travel from afar. Don’t get me wrong. I love Barcelona. The transportation system rocks. The convention rocks. And of course, the coffee really, really rocks.
While a lot of the audience at MWC is the same one for CTIA, the show formats are considerably different. On the first day of MWC, we heard from several European operators – Telefonica, Telenor and Vodafone. We also heard from Microsoft, Nokia and AT&T Mobility. On the second day, the roster included Verizon Communications, Qualcomm, Nokia Siemens Networks and China Unicom.
At the International CTIA Wireless 2009 – note the word “International” in the title – the list of keynoters includes T-Mobile USA President and CEO Robert Dotson, who is also the 2009 chairman of CTIA. Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of Research In Motion (RIM), and Ivan Seidenberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, also will be on stage for Day 1.
Day 2 brings Robert Bach, president of the Entertainment & Devices Division of Microsoft, as well as Ben Wolff, co-chairman of Clearwire. Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer at Scripps Health, also is appearing. Interestingly, this is the first time, at least in my memory, where a medical professional is one of the morning keynotes. Of course, Day 3 is set aside for former U.S. Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore.
As you can see, the CTIA keynotes are more U.S.-centric than those who appeared at MWC, although you can probably argue that every single one of the CTIA speakers has some connection to the international market. (Gore is in a separate category; he covers the entire planet.) T-Mobile USA is owned by T-Mobile International AG, the mobile subsidiary of Germany’s Deutsche Telekom. RIM, with headquarters in Canada, has about 425 carrier and distribution partners in more than 150 countries. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone.
Well, you get the picture. It’s an international industry, and trade shows reflect that. Having said that, it’s worth noting that markets around the world are quite different. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union, with an estimated 3.5 million people out of work, so it’s not surprising that Telefonica is offering phone bill discounts of up to $26 for unemployed customers.
We need trade shows to learn about what operators and vendors are doing in other markets. We need this April 2009 trade show in Las Vegas for an industry pow-wow when times are tough. Companies are laying off workers, some more than others; the industry is even down one trade publication with the closure of RCR Wireless News.
The scuttlebutt around trade shows is similar to that around trade publications. People wonder whether the industry can support both MWC and CTIA’s conference, just like they make bets on which trade publication is on the outs. In a down economy, it’s natural that some companies will cut back. But the economy is precisely why we need to get together, discuss strategies for surviving in down times and identify areas of opportunity.
I’m no fan of Las Vegas, but it is a decent venue for a trade show, with the infrastructure in place to host one the size of CTIA’s. For those of us who live in the United States, it’s a relatively cheap flight. The hotels, as far as I can tell, are offering reasonable rates – about half what my hotel in Barcelona gauged me for. The monorail system in Vegas offers an alternative to cabs, and I don’t have to convert euros to U.S. dollars. So the venue, monetarily speaking, beats Barcelona on a few fronts. Vegas will have to work on the culture and coffee.