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NetWorld+Interop Report
by Thomas Caldwell

Summers in Japan are hot, sticky affairs. So too can be some trade shows.

When one thinks of the annual NetWorld+Interop event, held at the Nippon Convention Center in Tokyo's Makuhari Messe, one also thinks of heat and and humidity. Besides, it is summertime and Makuhari was built on a marsh, and part of the reason for the show's annual high temperature is the amount of equipment needed to power the famous Show Net, the original idea being to demonstrate to prospective customers that everything worked the way it was suppose to with everything else. All that equipment, and stressed out engineers, gave off a lot of heat.

Crowds at Makuhari Messe

Yet, this year, there was another reason the temperature on the show floor was so high: lots and lots of people.

This year's NetWorld+Interop show was the biggest, and arguably the best, ever. Over the three days the exhibition ran (June 2-4), more than 120,000 (121,677 to be exact) people showed up to see what 303 exhibitors had on display. It was a mob scene most of the time; I half expected to discover an exhibition hall being set aside for the screening of Episode I of Star Wars.

The price and queue were not that much different from a top of the line movie either. If you didn't have a free ticket sent to you, the cost was ¥ 3,000.

NTT dominated the exhibition hall in much the way they dominate the local market, with a massive structure smack dab in the center of everything. Japan's leading telecom carrier, which will be drastically restructured from 1 July, used the opportunity to show off virtually every network-related product and service it will be offering its customers over the coming months. It was also a clear warning to the other exhibitors that competition over the next year was going to get nasty.

Besides the usual Japanese household names, most of the major foreign players were to be found. Among the most notable was Novell. This computing stalwart won my award for the most attention getting, imaginative slogan. Lucent Technologies, the current incarnation of Bell Laboratories, had their name, logo, and products everywhere (big push coming in Japan?). Canada-based Nortel Networks deserves honorable mention for the most bizarre advertising video on the floor: a senior corporate suit reading the words of the Beatles song Come Together as if it were a serious business presentation. The company must be doing really well if it can afford to pay the remaining Beatles and the estate of John Lennon enough money to do THAT with their song. Conclusions: This year's NetWorld+Interop was not about technology so much as it was about the networking industry. The place was haunted by the Ghost of Industry Shakeouts to Come. Lots of people making similar equipment and prices dropping all across the board. A situation like that can only last so long in such a capital intensive, R&D-necessary field.

On the bright side, the sheer number and variety of people who attended seems to indicate that ecommerce -- the biggest new market for networking equipment -- is going to get very big in Japan very, very fast. Not just with the big companies, but with a lot of the smaller companies as well. There were even some people from small, mom & pop-type companies who came to learn what they could about selling on the Web.

In short, expect lots of M&A over the next 12 months and for ecommerce to be billed as Japan's way out of the nation's current economic quagmire.


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