Thursday, September 27, 2007

Note to ITU: Not another boring trade show, please!

As promised, here's my column dealing with how the ITU might make the Telecom Asia event in Bangkok next year worth attending. It originally appeared in CommsDay and Broadband Communities, which you can sign up for at

You might have already heard the news that Bangkok has been selected for next year's ITU Telecom Asia event. I must admit I was quite stunned when I first learned of it, given the political situation here and the southern turmoil. Makes you wonder how some of the other cities could have screwed up their bids so badly.

Actually Thailand has been trying to land this event for quite some time, having made a bid to be the 2004 host, which went to South Korea, and also the 2002 event in Hong Kong. So maybe they got extra points for persistence? They certainly didn't get it because of the public transport options going to the Impact venue out in Muang Thong Thani (if you're from out of town and planning to attend, install some games or an e-book on your PDA, as it will help kill the travelling time).

But enough of the cynicism, Bangkok has been known to put on a good event before. The old 3G Congress (now Mobility World) did a stint in Bangkok before scampering off back to Hong Kong, while the tech-focussed APRICOT (Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies if you must know) has also been successfully held here. But both of those were, it must be noted, held at the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre -- a far more accessible venue but unfortunately too small on this occasion.

I have noticed that Bangkok is popular within the telecom sector, particularly among those who golf or are into the food, so hopefully that will offset the logistics nightmare that awaits. There are some other things that the organisers can do to make the event memorable, however. First and foremost, they can vow to radically alter the format and style that most major trade events follow.

I was quite critical of another ITU event, last year's Telecom World in Hong Kong, but the same criticism applies to many of these events, including CommunicAsia down in Singapore. It seems the main concern is dragging enough exhibitors into the event, with less effort on first and foremost making the "content'' world class. Yep, just like the telcos that attend, these events need to alter their operating models.

The ITU events do have a forum/conference component to them, but the last few I've attended have been boring. In Hong Kong last year I couldn't help noticing that a lot of the keynote speakers were top brass at some of the major exhibitors. While some did have something to say, others delivered little more than a corporate spiel, and what they did say was uninspiring. In particular, many Asian CEOs, from some of the world's largest companies, really need to work on their presentation skills if they're to be taken seriously.

Some of it can be put down to speaking in their non-native tongue, or having to go through a translator, but many non-English speakers from other parts of the world can get around it. In fact, the best presentation I came across was from a Spanish-speaking South American but delivered in English. He had something to say so people were prepared to put in the extra effort to listen.

The forum organisers could also have a look at how some of the other conferences are attracting an enthusiastic crowd and rave reviews. For example, the seminars and brainstorming sessions from the guys at Telco 2.0 in the UK, or some of the many interesting ones from O'Reilly, such as the E-Tech (emerging technology) conferences.

There are scads of others in the U.S. as well, but the point is that the ITU needs to create a conference that people are lining up to attend, not one where the speakers are from the biggest exhibitors. Nor even because they're the CEO of a particularly large company, but rather because they have something compelling to say and they tend to say it in a compelling way.
There are loads of other ideas they could implement too. For example rather than just a separate youth conference, get some well-spoken Thai youths up on stage telling the out-of-touch telco bosses what they want from a mobile or broadband service. And better yet, have them roaming around the halls doing live video, blogging and whatever else they do and put it online for all to access.

And get speakers from the new players that are going to eat the traditional telco's lunch, like the Skypes, Googles and anyone else with a disruptive business model. And while we're at it, involve anyone from the Thai regulatory side over the years and get them to justify leaving the country as a telecom backwater when it could be so much more.

I'm just scratching the surface here, but the point is they should be thinking out-of-the-box so that they can create a memorable event. The last thing we need is a boring, same-old trade event where the only thing you remember is the traffic getting to and from the venue.

*Got some suggestions for making ITU Bangkok event memorable? Please leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

I agree about getting the right speakers - it's important to have some buzz going before a trade show. No buzz usually makes for a boring convention.

Anonymous said...

Great column, Geoff. What I would most like to see at this show is the Thai ministers who are responsible for overseeing telco/broadband infrastructure giving keynote speeches. I've heard that the current ICT minister doesn't even use email, and only checks the Net to surf golfing sites.

Perhaps if more international attention was paid to Thailand, multinationals could better decide whether to invest in the country, secure in the knowledge that their expat workers would easily obtain working visas and Net connectivity to get their jobs done, not to mention having contracts honored through the rule of law. Thailand could only benefit from professional expats demonstrating best practices in tech fields, not to mention renting flats, paying taxes and employing Thais directly and indirectly.

In years past, Thailand had little competition in the region. But now with China and Vietnam raising their profiles (note that Intel chose VN over Thailand as the site of a large recent investment, while Ikea has said they are pulling back plans to invest in Thailand over due to lack of confidence in the country's stability and treatment of multinationals), Thailand needs to prove to the world that their value-proposition is not only sound, but built on a sound platform. Perhaps Thailand's ministers can use this show as a platform to quell these doubts.

Anonymous said...

I would like to suggest something more interactive. I want to host a bird flu pandemic scenario for the audience - with a focus on how ICT can assist during such an event.

Basically prior to the show I design a scenario, and we invite people to become part of a fictional entity (company or other).

At the event I introduce the scenario and we let the members respond to the events as they unfold.

I would "steer" the responses towards an ICT focus (and perhaps introduce some technologies on the way through).

The members and observers will leave being better prepared for a pandemic, but they will also be more aware of the value of ICT in Thailand (or Asia), and thus consider investing prior to such and event - which is good for the industry and the country.

Andrew -