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NetWorld+Interop and Comdex: Low-key is the word

The annual fall networking extravaganza is expected to be light on product announcements from the big players this year. Security, voice-data convergence and wireless technology will move into the spotlight instead.

ATLANTA -- This year's NetWorld+Interop and Comdex conference may be about as energetic as the snoozing economy, industry watchers say.

Normally a forum for glitzy product announcements and marketing buzz, the excitement this year at the annual fall networking extravaganza is expected to come from informational sessions on security, wireless and voice-data convergence, as well from announcements by smaller players. And although the big players have scaled back their presence at the show, it is still expected to draw 30,000 people this week.

September 11 casts a pall
Key3Media Group Inc., the organizer of this week's conference, said that the 30,000 attendees it expects this year would represent a jump from last year's 19,000. Last year's conference coincided with the terrorist attacks of September 11. With airports closed, travel to and from the conference was impossible for most.

The timing may also keep people away this year as well, as the country on Wednesday observes the first anniversary of the attacks.

"Some people on the way to this conference in Atlanta last year actually saw the planes hit the World Trade Center towers," said Peter Bernstein, president of Infonautics Consulting, Ramsey, N.J. "Others got stuck in Atlanta. People don't have good memories about this show."

Cisco spokeman Larry Yu said his company is keeping a low profile because of the timing of the conference. "Honestly, I think many companies are struggling with what to do this coming week and whether it is appropriate to do something," he said.

"This conference is reflective of the state of the networking market," said Peter Bernstein, president of Infonautics Consulting, a Ramsey, N.J., consulting firm. "People are not buying. They are doing a lot of tire-kicking and mulling over return on investment."

Right now, Bernstein said, networking is in a slump, like the economy at large. No one is buying. The big vendors know who their customers are, and they are more interested in keeping those customers happy than searching around the shallow pool of new ones, he said.

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Overall, there are few big announcements from large companies expected. Cisco, which often has a large presence at shows such as N+I, is keeping a low profile this year and does not have any product announcements planned, said Cisco spokesman Larry Yu.

"It's a show where there are not going to be any big surprises," Bernstein said.

Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., a Voorhees, N.J., consulting firm, said it will be the smaller vendors who will be peddling their products the hardest this week.

"What you have at N+I is a bunch of desperate start-ups hoping against hope that someone will buy them in the next 90 days so they don't go under," he said.

Despite the gloom over the industry and the anniversary of September 11 that coincides with the show, there are likely to be a few areas of interest at the conference.

Security has been a bright spot of growth in the networking world. And given heightened concerns about terrorism since last year's attacks, the resiliency and security of networks has become a primary issue for the industry. There are two days of sessions focused on security at the conference and plenty of companies offering security solutions.

Mobility is also a growth area. The conference offers two days of sessions on wireless networking, and plenty of small companies will be hawking their wireless products.

There are also sessions on network convergence, a growing area of interest for companies considering the leap to voice over Internet protocol. And plenty of companies are offering network optimization and management tools.

If things get too grim, there's always the free beer at booth 123.

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