TMC’s Internet Telephony Conference and Expo East 2006: See the Show!
TMCnet Associate Editor
Want to know everything there is to know about Voice-over-IP - the technology that makes it possible to send voice calls and other communications over the Internet?
Then you need to attend Technology Marketing Corporation’s Internet Telephony Conference and Expo 2006, starting this Tuesday, Jan. 24, and running through Friday, Jan. 27, at the Broward County Convention Center in Ft. Lauderdale Fla.
Touted as the “World’s Largest VoIP Marketplace,” the event brings together service providers, developers, resellers and buyers of VoIP from all over the world - all under one roof - to learn about what’s new in the industry. Attendees will have the opportunity to see companies demonstrate new VoIP products and services, listen to keynotes from top industry executives and luminaries (including CNBC’s Ron Insana and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge), attend special seminars, network and have fun.
But as Rich Tehrani, group publisher and president of TMC points out, the main purpose of the show is to educate members of the VoIP community all about the latest advancements in VoIP - and where the technology is heading in the future. This is facilitated not only through demonstrations on the show floor, but also through the keynotes (of which there are almost 20), conference seminars (of which there are more than 100), and a variety of networking functions. This year’s event, he said, is expected to attract more than 8,000 people, all of them eager to learn about the future of IP telephony.
During a recent interview, Tehrani talked about the history of the show - as well as its merits and where it is heading in the future. He was joined by David Rodriguez, VP of publications, conferences and online media for TMC; Michael Genaro, VP of marketing for TMC; and Greg Galitzine, editorial director for Internet Telephony Magazine, the popular TMC publication which drives the show’s attendance. What follows are excerpts from the interview:
Q: When was the first IT Expo?
Tehrani: The first show was in October 1999. It took place in the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.
Q: And what was that show like?
Tehrani: It had 72 booths … and it was very crowded. There was a lot of excitement. Big buzz. We noticed that there was tremendous service provider interest at that time – a lot of the CLECS were being funded at that time, and they were looking for equipment for their networks. So they came to that show to look for, and purchase, their equipment. There were enterprises and resellers – a lot of venture capitalists.
Q: Was the focus of the show the same then as it is today?
Tehrani: Yes. It’s always been the premier Voice over IP event, bringing the VoIP community together. We really focus on helping buyers and sellers to meet, and deploy their networks. We help enterprises to deploy their phone systems – resellers figure out what they want – and developers to figure out what platforms to develop on. One of the things that distinguished us early on is that the event focused on development platforms for companies like Dialogic, which is now a division of Intel, Natural Microsystems and Brooktrout – and those development sessions were very well attended. I think that show attracted from 2,000 to 3,000 people.
Q: And how well was that first event received?
Tehrani: We actually sold out the first year – and we grew 100 percent the next year – we sold out again. So we sold it out the first two years in a row.
Q: Did the show get much media coverage?
Tehrani: Back then VoIP was such a new thing that it didn’t really show up on anyone’s radar.
Galitzine: There was some international media coverage. I remember some Japanese reporters covering business technology who came to cover the event.
Q: Was it difficult to launch that first event?
Tehrani: It was a very easy event for us to do - because we had a tremendous audience with Internet Telephony Magazine - and tremendous reach through the website (TMCnet) - so it was fairly simple for us to bring the attendees. And the exhibitors realized that we had the broadest reach out of any company in the world in VoIP - because we had the magazine and the website. Those two things helped us sell out the exhibit hall the first two years.
Galitzine: Back then the magazine was really the thing that drove attendance.
Q: How has the event grown over the years? When did you add the second, East Coast show?
Tehrani: We launched the show in Miami in 2001. But we continued to focus on the VoIP industry. Our goal has always been to be the largest show attracting the most qualified and the largest audience – and that’s something we’ve accomplished every single event.
Tehrani (continues): But while we’ve focused on everything VoIP, the VoIP industry has evolved. In 1999 we started to see a shift towards less enterprise spending by the exhibitors, and more of a focus on service providers. In 2001, the CLECs that were doing a lot of spending dried up – they stopped spending. That left us with government and enterprise – they were really the only ones left buying things in the VoIP market, for a number of years. But then we started to see resurgence in service providers when the market started to pick up in 2004. Now the service provider audience is our fastest growing audience. Now we’re getting service providers from all over the world – from the Caribbean, to Latin America, to Europe … and domestically.
Q: Tell me a little about what it’s like planning the show – getting vendors to participate, lining up the speakers, how you boost up attendance, etc.
Genaro: One of the strongest positioning points of our show is the conference program. We spend the time to build the most objective, complete and in-depth educational program of any VoIP show. So we really focus on the educational aspect. The networking goes hand in hand with it. But we spend a lot of time picking the topics – and predicting which topics will be the most relevant 12 months from now. We also have some of the highest profile speakers – such as Tom Ridge and Ron Insana.
Q: How do you arrange for the big keynoters?
Rodriguez: In selecting speakers, we sort of put out a call for papers – regarding the topics and subject matter we find to be the most exciting to cover. We then encourage them to provide us with a series of abstracts, which we review to then go about building the conference program. So this review process allows us to not only gauge the abstracts that come in, but also to evaluate who the best speakers are for each of those subject matters, and decide which angle we should pursue in each of these sessions. By generating 400 to 500 abstracts per event, it really gives us an insight into what the industry is thinking, what companies are thinking about the industry, and allows us to select the best and brightest. In terms of the keynoters, we are looking for the best and brightest in the industry - so we start at the top, with the people who have the greatest mind-share in the space - the ones who people are going to want to see - and then we work our way down the list.
Q: Is it sometimes difficult to get the more well-known keynoters to come?
Rodriguez: Lining the speakers up isn’t all that difficult because most of them already want to speak at the event. The bigger challenge is how to rotate them so that the audience is always seeing different companies and different thought leaders. We also have to look at our audience - for example, when we have our show in San Diego (held in October), which is the wireless capital of the world, it makes sense to have keynoters who can also touch upon mobility.
Q: What is the difference between the East Coast and West Coast shows?
Rodriguez: Our East Coast show has a larger international presence – in the sense that we have more attendees from Latin America, South America, Central America. It also has a larger bent towards service providers, whereas at the West Coast show we have a little more of an enterprise presence. There’s very little difference in terms of attendance - since each show builds on the next – but if you ask which one is larger …well, it depends.
Galitzine: One of the things about the south Florida shows that you can’t measure is the level of buzz. I’ve always felt that the East Coast show has a certain tangible buzz - I don’t know if it’s because of the influx of the international community or the fact that it’s in a warm weather location in January. But there’s something really special about the East Coast show.
Q: Is part of the show’s purpose to serve as a catalyst to get VoIP to take off?
Tehrani: Yes. It helps bring the buyers and sellers together. And what are the buyers looking for? They’re looking for solutions. And the easiest way for someone to find solutions is to go to an event and speak with the people who are providing the solutions – the people who help people with their decision making. We like to talk about the one third rule – one third of what you learn at the expo comes from the exhibit floor, one third from the networking, and one third from the conference program.
Q: Tell me a little about VoIP version 2.0 and how that relates to the show.
Tehrani: That’s been the theme for a few shows now – and the concept of VoIP 2.0 is that our industry is moving beyond cost savings alone to focus on applications and other exciting things that VoIP can do. And our event is the only place where you can come and see the next generation of VoIP before it comes out. So it’s not just about cost savings, but what else is new, what else is exciting.
Q: With all that VoIP, IPTV, triple play and IMS have to offer in the future, do you see the show expanding to encompass more than just VoIP?
Tehrani: We’ve kept up with the whole industry – so we’ve already seen the event grow as the industry has grown. And important areas where we felt we need more coverage have been added – for example, we are beginning to add more IMS coverage to the event, and we were the first event in the world to focus on WiFi Telephony. We were also the first to focus on open source telephony. SIP, IMS and triple play are all becoming bigger parts of the event. And we are the only show in the industry that offers a voice peering event. If it’s related, anything is possible – but as of present, everything is focused on VoIP.
Q: What will be new at this year’s show?
Tehrani: This will be the first time that voice communities have been covered at any show. The concept of voice communities is fairly simple: it’s taking all the communities of interest on the internet and enabling these people to communicate with each other via voice conversations, conference calls, voice chat. It’s the evolution of communities - but now being voice enabled. One of the things that foretold that this will be a bigger market is that, when eBay acquired Skype, it became obvious that eBay’s focus was going to be on voice-enabling its communities. Subsequently, it’s going to become a bigger focus for companies as well. We are the only show where you can get an education on that.
Galitzine: We’re also going to have a VoIP security summit at this event. Security is one of those things that, as voice services become more main stream, there’s going to be more opportunities for hackers to attack VoIP systems - and attack enterprises through their phone systems. There are solutions today - but at the show we focus on educating the market. In addition, [the VoIP security summit] helps set the stage nicely for one of our keynote speakers, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.
Q: What is your fondest (or funniest) show memory?
Tehrani: Jeff Dworkin wearing a Viking hat would have to be it. [At the 2000 show] he was one of our exhibitors – and this company called Odin TeleSystems, that was in the enabling technology market for VoIP, had a Viking helmet that they brought to the show. Well, Jeff borrowed it, and he put it on, and we took some pictures of it. Well, those pictures were circulating around our office for a number of years – and we all got a good chuckle out of it. Jeff was always well known for his magic tricks, which he would do at the event.
Tehrani (continues): There was also one time when we got an unusual reaction from the audience during one of the sessions. We launched something called ConvergeNet, which was the first VoIP network designed for interoperability testing between providers. And there was interest from the vendor community – but I remember that during this event in 2000, when I mentioned to the audience that we needed more interoperability among VoIP providers, the audience broke out into applause. It was just something that you don’t expect from a technical conference, where people are absorbing, as opposed to responding, as they would to a comedy show. It was totally surprising.
Q: What do you find most satisfying about doing a show?
Tehrani: For me, it’s satisfying to attract more people looking to buy products and services to every show. It’s also exciting to be on the forefront of a technology that is going to change the world. Quite honestly, when we told people we were launching the magazine it in 1997 - and then this show - everyone laughed. They told me my idea was stupid – and that what I was doing was insane. At that time, there were a few companies that had decided that VoIP was the future - but the people who weren’t in the market were actually appalled that I would do such a thing. There was a serious division between the companies that believed in VoIP - and there were companies which thought I had jumped off the deep end. Most of the companies that believed in VoIP weren’t really in it yet – so it was a depressing and demoralizing experience for me in 1997. But [Internet Telephony] magazine turned out to be very successful – and proved everyone wrong in the first year we published. The next year, we grew even faster. And then we went through a period of about three years during which the show and the magazines consolidated. At that time, it seemed like the naysayers were smarter than we were. But we believed that the technology had a future. It wasn’t until 2004 that the industry realized that, during the past three or four years, it had made a mistake by dismissing VoIP, not just once, but twice. And that was when the resurgence of interest came. Today, virtually anybody who can take advantage of VoIP is taking advantage it – from wireless providers to cable providers. It’s become obvious now.
Galitzine: I get satisfaction from knowing that the show and the magazine are helping people make good choices when it comes to VoIP. You’re helping to educate the market place – and that is always great feeling.
For more information about TMC’s Internet Telephony Conference and Expo 2006, including how to register, visit http://www.tmcnet.com/voip/conference/.
Patrick Barnard is Associate Editor for TMCnet and a columnist covering the telecom industry. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.