NetWorld+Interop opens this week in Las Vegas amid an optimism that belies the depressed state of the economy, ongoing travel concerns and the fact that there are fewer than half as many exhibitors this year as there were at last spring's event.
The mood is especially upbeat compared with last autumn's NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta. Organiser Key3Media Events closed that show for good following lack of support from key suppliers. Two networking shows per year was one too many, said Mike Millikin, senior vice-president of Key3Media.
Users said they hope to gain some insights into new technologies this week so that they will be ready to go when the economy improves.
"I feel pretty optimistic about the future of technology, and in two years, you will see some extraordinary things, especially with wireless," said Michael Krone, network manager at The United Center, a sports and entertainment venue in Chicago.
Krone said he plans to research voice-over-IP and wireless products. As a major user of products from Foundry Networks, Krone said he wants to compare Foundry's technology with that of Extreme Networks, among others, to see which products offer the most affordable and effective path to IP convergence.
Rick Sloan, telecommunications manager at Dollar Tree Stores, a chain of 2,300 retail outlets, said he plans to attend seminars and the show floor to expand his knowledge beyond pure telecommunications technologies.
Sloan said Dollar Tree is a satisfied user of gear from Avaya and Cisco Systems. But he said he does not want to become complacent with his suppliers. Dollar Tree's culture is "mean and lean", with an emphasis on cost savings, he said.
This week's show is expected to attract 40,000 visitors, matching the attendance at last year's NetWorld+Interop show in Las Vegas, Millikin said. But there will be only 260 suppliers on the show floor, down from 572 in 2002.
MCI, formerly WorldCom, may have the most ambitious agenda among the suppliers, as it tries to demonstrate a resurgence following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.
NetWorld+Interop is "timed perfectly" with its completion of a 100-day reorganisation plan and rebranding effort, said Ron McMurtrie, MCI's vice-president of global branding.
MCI will unveil a road map for building IP and convergence services with the announcement of a secure internetworking gateway, said McMurtrie.
Representatives of several large networking suppliers said NetWorld+Interop is still the most important show they attend each year in North America.
"NetWorld+Interop is extremely important for us. We have been more selective with going to shows recently," said Duncan Potter, vice-president of marketing at Extreme Networks. The company is providing what Potter called the "world's largest temporary Lan" to serve as the show's networking infrastructure.