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Tops and Flops in the IT Branch

Faster, bigger, better - every year CeBIT promises to showcase the latest products in information technology. But what’s in this year may be out the next.

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All eyes are on mobile phones this year at CeBIT

CeBIT’s organizers like to bill the computer fair not only as the world’s largest marketplace for the IT industry, but also as the most accurate trend barometer for the year’s developments. Every year the fair’s exhibitors and visitors are surveyed to find out what they consider the biggest topics in the field.

This year the focus is clearly on compact mobile technology. From cell phones with multi-media capabilities to wireless networks, anything is in as long as it allows today’s professionals to move freely without worrying about the next electrical outlet.

The key phrase for CeBIT 2002 is third generation mobile phones. With the establishment of the Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (UMTS) as a widely-accepted standard, cell phone manufacturers are falling over themselves to bring out products equipped with the new network technology.

According to a study conducted by Mummert + Partner, a German-based consulting firm, the top topics among this year’s 50 most important CeBIT exhibitors are:

  • UMTS (46 percent of those surveyed said this was the year’s biggest theme)
  • Mobility (40 percent)
  • Security, both against hackers and national threats (38 percent)
  • Wireless networks (22 percent)
  • Business-to-Business applications (18 percent)

    Security, a reoccurring topic at CeBIT, has expanded to include more than just preventing hackers from stealing files.

    Since September 11, the IT branch has become active in developing systems designed for use by police and intelligence agencies in the identification of potential national threats. Biometrics is the buzz word here.

    Computer vs. Communications

    Industry observers say that the gap between traditional software providers and telecommunication companies is becoming readily apparent. This was already the case last year, but with this year’s focus on mobile telephones the trend is even more obvious.

    Whereas the telecommunications branch is looking ahead to continued growth, software and computer companies have taken the brunt of the market slump and are gearing up for leaner years ahead.

    As a result, many of the classic IT businesses have adopted a more low-key role. The one-time market favorite Infineon, for example, is not even participating in the fair.

    Even more obvious is the decline in the personal computer market. Fewer consumers are buying PCs this year. But this has less to do with the economy and more with the developments in the field. For most consumers who already have a PC, this year’s innovations are either too expensive or just not interesting enough to require upgrading.

    Previous Tops and Flops

    But before the PC is completely written off as passé, a cautionary word should be added about the accuracy of CeBIT’s trend forecasts. What’s in or out at CeBIT may not actually have bearing on future consumer buying habits as the flops from earlier fairs show.

    In 2001 the hottest item was Bluetooth, a wireless technology for connecting computers to smaller devices like a cell phone. The success was greatly overestimated as sales figures showed, and not all cell phone manufacturers agreed on Bluetooth as the industry standard.

    The year 2000 proved a bang and bust year for start-ups, when young energetic entrepreneurs who rushed to the bank for fast-track credit burned up all their money before the end of the year. Dot-coms didn’t fare any better, and in 2001 many of them went belly-up. The technical flop of the year was Voice over IP, a system for telephoning over the internet. Hardly any internet providers offered this possibility.

    In 1999 the big flop was talking computers – PCs that could speak and understand speech. The intelligent prototypes unveiled at CeBIT never made it beyond the fair’s floors.

    Whether this year’s big hits will make it out onto the consumer market still remains to be seen. But if the successes of previous years such as DSL in 2001 or the mini electronic organizers in 1999 are any indication, 2002 will bring lots of tops in the mobile telecommunication category.

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