Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Cebit to showcase future of work and play

TURNAROUND IT companies are ready to unveil their latest gadgets in Hanover, Germany, as the high-tech industry struggles to pull itself out of a crippling downturn

AFP , BERLIN

An employee shows a computer motherboard prior to the Cebit 2004 computer fair in Hanover on Sunday. From Thursday until March 24 some 6,400 exhibitors from 64 nations will present their products at the world's biggest computer and information technology fair.

PHOTO: AFP

The world's largest high-tech fair, the Cebit, will put the future of work and play on show this week, as the industry unveils its latest gadgets and works to pull itself out of a crippling slump.

The week-long event opening on Thursday in the northern German city of Hanover will showcase next-generation mobile telephone services, hybrid products that wed television sets with computers, and warp-speed Internet connections.

Along with such products that are expected to be ready for roll-out in the coming months, the IT, telecommunications and consumer electronics sectors will also turn the spotlight on the industry's dreamers, showing prototypes of computerized shopping carts, Internet-equipped cars and "interactive" homes.

"In the future, we will shop differently, sell differently, work differently and live differently" is the motto of this year's Cebit, which is drawing 6,411 exhibitors from 64 countries.

The figure marks the third decline in a row for the fair, stemming from the trauma that has gripped the industry since the "new economy" bubble burst in 2000.

New data, however, indicate the worst is over for the global sector.

Turnover in the IT and telecommunications industries is expected to reach 2.16 trillion euros (US$2.63 trillion) this year, marking an increase of 4.3 percent, then speed up to six percent in 2005, according to a report by the European Information Technology Observatory.

This follows the anemic 0.7 percent growth tallied in 2002 and the 1.4 percent seen last year.

Telecommunications companies, which represent 42 percent of the market worldwide, are expected to drive the recovery.

Recovery

"After a few difficult years, we expect the Cebit to signal a turnaround," said Willi Berchthold, president of Germany's BITKOM industry organization grouping 1,300 computer and telecommunications companies.

"Our sector will recover its role as an engine for economic growth," he said.

After years of struggle and billions of dollars spent, a large-scale introduction of third-generation UMTS cellular phones, capable of providing fast access to the Internet and carrying video images, is now awaited.

Europe's top telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom, has promised to make a firm announcement on its upcoming UMTS services at the Cebit, following British operator Vodafone's launch of a UMTS data card giving users high-speed Internet access for their laptop computers.

`Holy grail'

Although the technology has often been presented as the industry's holy grail, a recent study by Forrester Research showed that only one European in 10 will be using UMTS services by 2007 and companies would need until 2014 to make a profit on it.

Despite the new-found optimism in the industry, the number of visitors to the fair is expected to fall to about 500,000 this year from 560,000 last year, 674,000 in 2002 and some 850,000 in 2001.

The number of exhibitors has also dropped and heavyweights such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Infineon have bowed out. But the number of foreign companies represented at the fair is on the rise, particularly from Asia.

Taiwan is to send 709 companies to Hanover, the US 222, the UK 198, China 189, South Korea 167 and Hong Kong 140 firms, while Asian visitors are expected to comprise a full 15 percent of the crowd.

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