CeBIT, the world's biggest technology trade fair, will be a leaner affair this year, but that isn't stopping industry experts from predicting growth and an end to the downturn of the past three years.
Is it a pen? Is it a phone?
It might be too soon to speak of a comeback, but as representatives from technology companies all over the world descend on Hanover for CeBIT, there's a sense that just maybe, the worst is over.
The high-tech industry suffered three rough years after the technology stock bubble burst. That's reflected in the figures for the world's largest tech trade fair. In 2001, CeBIT attendance peaked with 8,100 exhibitors. Last year, that number was down to around 6,600. And while organizers expect 200 fewer exhibitors this year, they say that's no reason to panic. Some of the decrease is due to the sluggish German economy, as the number of foreign firms attending has increased from last year.
Crowds of consumers and industry representatives check out the latest IT and computer trends each year at CeBIT.
The mood should be buoyant during the fair, which runs from March 18 - 24. Industry analysts say tech companies can look forward to a year of slow but steady growth. "It would be nonsense to assume it's back to double digit growth," said Charles Homs, a senior analyst with the Amsterdam-based research firm Forrester. "It's not a high growth market anymore." In particular, he predicts that firms selling a range of products from servers and routers to mobile phones can be pleased with the prospects of the year ahead.
Forrester anticipates a 2.6 percent rise in overall spending on information and communication technology in four major European markets this year: Germany, France, the UK, and the Netherlands. That compares with a mere 0.8 percent growth last year across the hardware, software, services and telecommunications sectors.
Consumer products a draw
Flags flutter outside the Cebit 2004.
CeBIT itself has undergone an image-change in recent years. Traditionally, the fair has been a showcase for industry insiders. But while most of the exhibitors still display products and services directed at corporate clients, the fair has developed a sexier side with emergence of the private consumer market -- more PC's and technical gadgets in the home, and an insatiable interest in mobile phones.
Accordingly, two of the hot topics at this year's CeBIT are the coming start of UMTS or third generation mobile phone services -- set to accelerate following several years of delay -- and advances in convergence as computer technology and home entertainment system components become more intertwined.