CeBIT 2008 – World’s Largest ICT Show Still Strong in the Age of the Web!

CeBIT 2008 - Just One Building of 30 from the EntranceAs part of a European trip through Vienna, Munich, London and Berlin to meet with some tech startups and key tech investors, yesterday I stopped in at CeBIT in Hannover Germany.

For those who don’t know CeBIT, this massive Information & Communications Technologies (ICT) show remains the largest computer show in the world. I’ve attended CeBIT off and on over the last 25 years, with my first one being in 1984 to launch Coherent on a prototype Commodore C900 machine. At that time, CeBIT was a “show within a show” of about 5 buildings in the 25 buildings that comprised Hanover Fair (HannoverMesse, in German). The rest of the show was chock full of large industrial equipment, construction technology, mining equipment and the like, so incredibly diverse. Today, CeBIT consumes 27 buildings (plus a number of smaller pavilions), each building the size of a large convention centre/trade show facility in itself.

Today, before heading out to Berlin, I wanted to share a few impressions:

  • The show is still going strong – while the web is disintermediating large US shows and even reduced to 6 days, down from 8, the halls of CeBIT were packed.
  • In all the chaos, there is still some room for focus. e.g. I estimate that last month’s World Mobile Congress in Barcelona to be about 5% the size of CeBIT, and CeBIT’s 5+ buildings of mobile and wireless are likely double WMC’s exhibitor footprint.
  • Other key focuses are security (whose hall was mobbed yesterday), navigation and tracking, big server and other hardware, and of course the many smaller companies from around the world.
  • Notwithstanding the amount of German signage, the show continues to be quite international. Although US presence may have dropped a bit, the Asian presence continues to grow dramatically, and those companies are moving up the food chain – not just contract manufacturers, but producers of innovative products and technologies.
  • Top people were there – CEOs, senior executives and the like – clearly, it’s an environment where global tech business gets done, alliances are built, etc.
  • I can’t remember when I’ve seen so much big iron – servers, telephony switches, etc. While Verdexus doesn’t invest in this area, it was interesting to see the trends here nonetheless – companies like Thomson with their media strategies are notable in this regard.

Out of this plethora of technology riches, here are just a few themes that I’d comment on:

Given that Symbian (Nokia, Sony Ericsson) has a installed base over 10 times the size of RIM’s Blackberry, I was really surprised to see that Vodafone’s entire enterprise and data-driven applications displays were pretty well 100% Blackberry-oriented. While someone in Waterloo wouldn’t be surprised at this, for Europe this was surprising in a region where Blackberry sitings (except among Americans and Canadians) are still relatively rare. And, as a corollary for obvious reasons, there really weren’t a lot of Apple iPhones around.
A whole new generation of security players, relative to Symantec and Macafee, are rapidly gaining market momentum. Companies like Kaspersky Labs, AVG, GData, Trend Micro, etc. now have a huge footprint. There’s lots of talk of IPO activity in this sector (which will certainly be a welcome change), and it’s interesting that the new security business model is less to build the all-singing, all dancing suite (a la Symantec), but to stick more closely to a pure play strategy. These trends should be of strong interest to all those building startups in the security space – new partnering and liquidity strategies may be needed.

And, with my interest in new startups and the business models they enable, I’ll mention one university spin-out from Regensburg called Psylock Years of research seem to have finally provided a commercial grade, hardware-free authentication, accurately identifying people based on their typing behaviour. I’m convinced that Psylock will enable some very interesting new applications.

Another promising technology, coming from some brilliant minds in Zagreb, was an OEM RFID implementation sized at 50% of existing products and consuming much less power. This, when combined into barcode scanners or other technologies, will help RFID move into entirely new applications. This is another technology to watch.

The days of cheap offshoring (nearshoring) for European companies in countries like Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are probably over. The very talented companies in this area are now focused on quality and human capital and no longer on price. You have to look further east to Ukraine or Russia or Asia to lower software development costs.

So, there you have it – CeBIT, there’s nothing else quite like it, and amazingly strong after all these years …

CeBIT 2008 Map of Messegelande in Hannover, GermanyCeBIT 2008 Logo and Dates