So, can Cannes cope with the GSM World Congress?
Im off to the Cote dAzur. Its my duty. Its time to go to Europes biggest wireless show, set, as always, in one of Europes smaller conference venues: the Palais des Festivals et des Congrés, in Cannes, in the South of France.
Its the venue that is the attraction, in one sense. And in another, its the venue that is the problem.
Cannes 2005 will be a success. No doubt about it. Nobody with pretenses to eminence in wireless can afford to be absent. And nobody who makes their living by networking with those pretentious people (like I do!) can fail to follow them there.
“This years Congress has a record level of speaking expertise with 107 tier-one board-level speakers, including 56 CEOs,” proclaims the conference Web site.
Its not just the keynote speakers that professional name-droppers (like myself) are keen to meet. Yes, this is a rare chance to bump into Rene Obermann, CEO of T-Mobile International, and a rather less rare chance to interview Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of easyGroup (EasyJet, EasyPC, EasyCar, and so on). Or, theres the possibility of eavesdropping on a conversation between Jonathan Schwartz, president and COO of Sun Microsystems, or a conversation between Joe Ziskin, global vice president of telecoms at IBM and Pascal Debon, president of carrier networks at Nortel Networks. Wonderful! But they arent the only attraction. Its the delegates, too.
The point of networking with people is, hopefully, to make friends with those who are still obscure. Im one of those people who can expect PalmOne President Ed Colligan to return my calls—not because he sees me as a “key journalist” (though naturally, I hope he does) but because I knew him when he was an unknown kid struggling to launch Palm at that early Demo conference in Indian Wells. That was in the days when the concept of a PDA was seen by most mainstream pundits as somewhere between quaint and silly.
And its on that level that I have my queries about Cannes.
Will the GSM World
Congress Go the Way of Comdex?”>
This year, make no mistake, you have to be there. If you are a major, established industry figure, 2005 is one of those chances to meet and greet your other established peers and do deals as if they would be hard to do by formal arrangement. That goes without saying.
But a convention has to do more than that. I watched Comdex from its inception in Atlantic City, through the “Towering Inferno” disaster in the old MGM Grand in Las Vegas, right up to its peak. I stopped going in the mid-1990s, because the people I needed to meet were no longer going. And within a decade, the show was dead.
Those people—the ones I need to meet—are the startups. I dont mean startups who have substantial venture capital lined up behind a coherent business plan; nor do I mean the people who poisoned Comdex (and who are now poisoning Computex)—the box-shifting vendors of bin-ends and show specials. I mean the people who have a great idea and need to meet potential partners who can help them turn that idea into a business plan.
The trouble is, wireless—all sorts of wireless—is big business. The entry fee to a big successful conference and exhibition is high in this market. And so the opportunities you could find at a smaller exhibition in a new industry, for a few hundred dollars, are simply not available to bright kids straight out of college, working with a couple of friends, and who have a nearly working prototype to demonstrate.
Its not just the cost of a booth, horrifying though that would be to our bright kids. Its the city itself.
Cannes is not a big town. Its a place with a big population of permanent residents and an even bigger summertime population of wealthy holiday-makers. Youd think that in winter there would be ample hotel space, and in one sense there is. Theres enough hotel space for the really wealthy corporate plutocrats, at any rate.
Last year, even though I had a good budget, I found myself staying nearly 50 miles outside the city of Cannes. All rooms in Cannes and Nice were booked a year earlier. So I had to take a taxi into town and out of town each day. It was not just exhausting; it was darned expensive. And my hotel, which normally is a tiny roadside inn charging moderate country prices for a room and very reasonable prices for food, had racked up the price list until it rivaled anything you could spend in Nice or Cannes.
The year before that, I had to stay in Monaco on the Italian border. I neednt explain, probably, that the principality of Monaco is not where youll find a large concentration of people on limited incomes.
Whether the organizers can rise to the logistical challenge this creates depends on whether they recognize the threat.
Its not all bad news. Last year, I was one of several visitors who exploded in public rage over the connectivity provided for Internet access at the show. The organizers had fouled up the system three years on the go, and when we got there and found that the only option was a truly “arm and leg”-priced program from France Telecom, tempers boiled up to ignition point.
This year, the promise is of free public Wi-Fi for all delegates.
OK, a promise is one thing; the expertise to execute is another. Ive seen too many big conventions attempt to provide campuswide WLAN services and fail. Ill believe it works when I get there and find that it works.
But at least the organizers have recognized their previous failure, and are working to repair the damage. Lets hope they do something similar as far as the venue is concerned.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.