The world's biggest technology fair will shrink for the first time in 17 years, reflecting the battering that Europe's computer and communications companies took in the past 12 months.
Cebit, an annual gathering where companies show off their latest gadgets, opened yesterday in Hanover, Germany. After a year when mobile-phone, PC and semiconductor sales all fell, organizer Deutsche Messe AG expects fewer exhibitors this time around.
Siemens AG isn't putting up the swimming pool and wave machine it used to draw crowds last year. Nokia Oyj will have one stand instead of three. Software maker Brokat AG has gone bust.
Firms that are attending say they'll focus on promoting products already in hand, rather than dazzling crowds with costly gimmicks or a peek at future technologies.
"The market has become a bit skeptical," said Charlotta Falvin, sales manager at Axis Communications AB, a Swedish maker of networking gear. "It's getting more and more important to be able to show that you have products that work here and now."
The shares of computer and telecommunications companies reflect investors' doubts. The top five makers of phone gear, including Ericsson AB, lost a combined US$128 billion of market value in the past year. For the five biggest PC makers the loss was almost US$50 billion.
The number of companies at this year's show, which runs until March 20, will fall by 1.6 percent to 7,962, according to figures from the organizers' Web site. That marks the first drop since Cebit split from the larger Hanover Messe to become a separate show in 1986, Cebit spokeswoman Gabriele Doerries said.
Smaller or not, Cebit still dwarfs other shows of its kind. Last year almost 850,000 people showed up. Companies from 60 countries will set up 425,000m2 of displays.
While most are German, there are 594 companies from Taiwan, 345 from the US and 281 from the UK.
By comparison, the Comdex tradeshow in Las Vegas last November drew an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 attendees with fewer than 2,000 exhibitors.
"Cebit is key for us," said Kai-Uwe Ricke, chief executive officer of Deutsche Telekom AG's wireless unit, T-Mobile International AG. "We want people to come and hold the technology, to use the products, to get a feel for them."
Much of the interest this year will surround mobile phones with color screens that allow speedier Internet access and let users swap photos. Nokia introduced new phones when it held a press conference Tuesday, as it seeks to stay ahead of rivals such as Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications Inc.
NEC Corp, Japan's biggest cellular-phone maker, and Royal Philips Electronics NV, Europe's No. 1 consumer electronics maker, both plan to show phones that can surf the Web faster. Handset makers are betting the new phones will lure consumers after sales industrywide fell for the first time last year.
There will also be some of the gadgets that attendees at technology fairs expect. Anoto AB, a unit of Sweden's C Technologies AB, will show an ink pen with a built-in camera. The tip "reads" handwriting and transmits the text wirelessly to computers, mobile phones or electronic organizers.
Still, an economic slowdown that led to a plunge in spending on technology and phone equipment, as well as hundreds of thousands of job cuts, has led some companies to take a more restrained approach to Cebit this year.