Notes from Supercomm 2002

 

I attended Tuesday through Thursday of the recent Supercomm conference in Atlanta this year, going to a couple of the open keynote sessions but otherwise spending time in the exhibit halls.To characterize the conference from my point of view it would be that there werenít many surprises Ė and that wasnít all bad:

 

 

The Show in General

 

Supercomm is really a big trade show with some associated conferences held by the IEC.The IEC sessions are always small in comparison with the exhibit floor, in part because they cost significantly more than entry to the exhibits only.From what I heard this year was no exception, though Doug Tait (Sun) told me his session on JAIN had a standing room crowd, a real departure from most.Perhaps itís an indication that JAIN is maturing to the point where people are looking harder at it.

 

The last Supercomm I attended was in 2000.That one filled two exhibit halls completely.This one was spread over 3, with a fair amount of empty space around the edges of each, so perhaps the same total space as 2000 or even a bit less.It was quite surprising though to see an industry that the business world has declared dead spending major money on billboards, sign trucks, entertainment, and events, though perhaps not as freely as before.The lavish parties werenít quite so lavish and invitations were a bit harder to come by than in the past.Vendors still gave away plenty of goodies at the booths, but there weremore cheap t-shirts gimmicks, and muchies and fewer expensive trinkets.As before there were plenty of silly shows in the booths, though fewer professional entertainers.One of the more imaginative draws was Verisign (aka Illuminet) who had a large booth promoting trust in their networking services, including a ďrockĒ tower which visitors could climb with the support from a climbing harnass.I didnít try this one though I did take a few swings at another companyís golf simulator.

 

Traffic in the exhibit halls was brisk, though a lot of people in the show had exhibitor badges, and many told me that few people came from the major carriers.(In business meetings with several carriers in recent weeks most had no travel budget to send people).

Lots of discussion of partnerships and vendors selling products to vendors.

 

Cisco Keynote

 

One of the talks I attended was John Chambers of Cisco, promting broadband.I really think broadband access is still a solution in search of a problem to solve for most people and in spite of the pleas by John Chambers itís not going to hurt US competitiveness that American consumers wait longer to download music clips and canít get as high quality in their animated ads.More than that though everything he showed looked like history, not vision.The technology to deliver broadband and to rapidly provision new services has been around for 20 years.The barriers are not technological.

 

Notable Exhibits

This section is not in an way representative of the show, but more of my interests and comments on the ones I visited.For those who donít know me, My field is basically communication software and services, so I didnít spend a lot of time with the people selling iron, silicon, and glass.

Lucent/Avaya/Agere

 

I visited the booths of Lucent and itís spinoffs as much as anything to find any old friends.Lucentís booth looked much like the one I saw 2 years ago, probably no surprise (So did Nortel and many others).Lucent exhibited a wide variety of solutions organized according to what problems they solved.Anyone looking for information on a specific product wound up on a treasure hunt trying to figure out where it may be.There was as before lots on IP services, and on optical networking, both of which were huge topics this year, and nota whole lot of voice services.Agere and Avaya both had pominenet booths at the entrances to the exhibit halls from connecting corridors.Avaya was showing a lot of IP networking, while Agere was prominently displaying Orinoco in addition to itís underlying devices.

 

Nortel

 

Again, Nortelís show looked much like the last one I saw (fortunately this time without the continous drone of the beatles ďCome TogetherĒ, which must have driven the nearby exhibitors nuts).I didnít find a lot of new stuff inside, but a friend told me that they did have an impressive exhibit of presence based communication buried in there.Nortel has spoken eloquently on presence at most of the VON events so it is no surprise that they would have a decent offering.

 

Alcatel

The alcatel booth was a bit out of the way, but equally large and a different look from before.(No circus performers though!)I went there looking for information on their SCP and application server products and found they werenít exhibiting anything in that area.Mostly they were showing transport solutions.I did run into an old friend, Niel Ransom, now CTO of Alcatel, who kidded me that Alcatelís market cap is now large than Lucent and Nortel combined.

 

Microsoft

Microsoft continues to demonstrate that it is serious about the communication business by showing up everywhere.In addition to basic software, Microsoft was heavily promoting their media capabilities.They had a 5.1 channel sound system with a living room setup to demonstrate using a PC to enhance video.The effects were cool enough, but you had to be in the right spot, and to me its not enough of a leap forward to redesign my living room.Microsoft was also exhibiting their video side by side with various standards.I didnít really see the quantum difference here.Microsoft took a lot of heat for designing their own codecs at the last conference I went to and if the technologists were making the choices would have to be LOTS better than standard to justify it, but the technologists donít rule here.Microsoft naturally showed windows messenger, windows CE, and their servers.

 

Net.com and the Service Creation Community

It must take courage these days to name your company anything ď.comĒ.I visited mainly to learn more about the service creation community, an effort to establish standards for building and delivering services in carrier networks lead by Net.com, Accenture, and a few other founding members.This seems to be really pushed by the integrators, who were often stuck with the job of putting together networks for new entrants and sorting out the various incompatibilities.†† The charter of establishing standards for this is very broad and extremely ambitious.Itís a problem worth solving, but I personally donít have high expectations for it.

 

NTT Docomo

 

NTT Docomo was one of two carrier booths I saw (The other being Sprint, which was not promoting their carrier role at all but their professional services and wholesale equipment business).NTT Docomo had a large booth promoting imode, with lots of gadgets to try.Video clips, video phones, location services, and other things.Their goal seems to be promoting iMode internationally as the route to 3G.The demonstrations were impressive, perhaps most because they were real (i.e. real phones, I have no idea how they did it but I presume they had a base station somewhere in the booth.One interesting moment was when I asked one of their people (and they probably had a person for every phone in the demo area so they were always there) what bit rate the video took and over what area it is available.The answer was 384Kb/s, and that that rate had only limited availability now but would be available throughout Japan within a few years.I didnít tell him, but the answer clearly points out the challenge in bringing high bandwidth wireless to the US, where population density is much less and distances are much larger.

 

Metasolv Software

 

These folks were near my companyís private demonstration area so I walked through their booth many times before encountering Curtis Holmes, formerly of Lucent, and realizing that this was his company.They provide operations software for carriers and were exhibit a lot of provisioning and billing solutions.An impressive display.

 

Santera

 

Santera builds softswitches and gateways.Oddly enough they were displaying the product like you would a circuit switch Ė a big box with a lot of services going into it.In reality it is modular and really deployed as a distributed system (One distributed ďswitchĒ in a network).They have a few deployments with small and international carriers, and recently completed new funding.What impressed me about them as well as about some of the other surviving softswitch companies was that instead of being portrayed as radical circuit switch killers, this technology is just being portrayed as normal network infrastructure, and oh by the way itís got packets inside instead of circuits.

Ericsson

I went there in search of Jambala, and never found it.They had lots of stuff on multimedia services, but in general a more subdued presence than before.

 

Cisco

Ciscoís display was surprisingly modest and low key.3 lecture areas and a big rack of Cisco products in the center.Hosted solutions was a major theme for them, no surprise there.I didnít see a lot new.Again, the theme seemed to be that this is routine technology solving business needs.Again, you would never guess the relative market capitalization of anyone at this show from the size and gaudiness of their booths.Cisco did have a large area for display of partner applications.Itís probably not surprising that the OSS/BSS applications dominated that area.

 

Aplion

This company had a good sized booth promoting their IP services products.The ďIP Services SwitchĒ, capable of doing packet filtering, protocol manipulations, QoS, firewalls, and other functions requiring processing at all levels has clearly become a hot product with lots of companies showing them now.This is still largely a provisioned services market, with nice interfaces used to quickly provision services rather than being controlled in real time from service programs.

 

Tellabs

I visited here looking for friends and wondering what another company that recently built big new buildings before firing thousands was showing.The answer is mainly cross connect products, their core business.

 

Tekelek

Tekelek was primarily promoting their core signaling and routing products.

 

Softswitch Consortium

One of the surprising booths I visited was from the ISC, the International Softswitch Consortium.This effort seems to have new life, and a lot of members presenting in their area.They had several white papers available on network architectures for wireless and wireline networks.

 

SIP Forum

Like the ISC, they were off in the periphery and were exhibiting various vendors SIP products.An interesting thing was that they were all networked to eachother and back to at least some of the vendorís main booths, which created a real-time interoperability experiment.

 

Pulver.com

 

Jeff Pulver, Carl Ford, and a few others from Pulver were there and as I mentioned threw a party with invites to subscribers to the Pulver Report.Jeff said that the report now has 35,000 subscribers.In general though the mood was subdued.The party was nice, even though the eats and drinks were a bit more modest than some of his others.The band (Herding Cats) was a nice surprise, playing exclusively covers of music mostly from the 70ís and 80ís, which fit the age of the crowd, and doing an excellent job with a wide range of styles.

 

Unisys

Unisys had one of the cornier displays, a booth shaped like a giant boat with a guy dressed up as a sea captain ďnavigating the recoveryĒ.This kind of stuff draws the curious, but I have to wonder whether some of these displays draw customers or not.

Other Softswitch Companies

 

I made the rounds of a lot of companies developing and selling softswitches.Sonus, Santera, Syndeo, Sylantro, Telica, and others were all there with good sized booths.There were many small players as well, but not a lot of exuberance.The big players were promoting this as normal technology now, and good for your business.The small ones were quietly handing out literature and probably like the company I am working with talking to the serious customers in a back room.

 

Applications Companies

 

Iperia, Ubiquity, Pelagro, Pactolis, SS8, and others were there with medium sized booths, promoting their platforms for new applications.Several more, including Personeta, the one I am working with) had modest displays and back rooms for serious customers.Converged applications and JAIN were big.I heard less promotion of Parlay this time but maybe it was bigger in the sessions.Perhaps everyone is suffering from carriers focusing on cost control rather than new revenue.

 

Some who werenít there

As always itís interesting to see who doesnít show up.Two notables in the field I follow were Dynamicsoft (SIP Servers), and IPVerse/NexVerse.SIP hasnít gone away, but the absence of a company that has done much to promote it seemed curious.IPVerse(now NexVerse) had been a staple in communications conferences for at least 2 years,but didnít show here.

Some Other Observations

 

I spoke with a lot of people in those 3 daysSome of the more interesting tidbits were:

 

 

One of the other things I am once again struck by is how small a world the carrier communications business is.Even in a vast show like this you canít walk down an aisle without running into people you used to work with wearing new badges with new titles.