Hanover in frosty February. Visitors sleep three to a hotel room - often with one in the bath. There's the continental-style cheese for breakfast and that special warehouse ambience. Everything about it seems designed to put you off - but 700,000 brave souls will still attend Cebit 2000.
This year's show will be the biggest ever trade fair, with twice the floorspace and three times as many visitors as its nearest rival, Comdex Fall in Las Vegas. The show boasts 7,500 exhibitors, showing everything from printers and pocket PCs to mainframes and mobile phones.
Wireless devices and mobile computing
Cebit 2000 will showcase a crop of wireless products developed since the launch last year of the Bluetooth standard and Nokia's wireless application protocol (Wap) server. Given the size and continued growth of the handset market, deployment of third generation networks in 2002 is the hot topic among networking companies - Panasonic, Toshiba, Alcatel, Ericsson and NEC will be among those demonstrating new wireless devices and applications this year.
That's not to say Cebit's main halls won't be the usual over-stuffed Aladdin's Cave of computing. You will find the latest in wireless and mobile computing, starting with Palm Computing's first colour personal digital assistant (PDA), the Palm IIIc. With a faster processor and improved battery power, the IIIc is aimed at corporate users who need access to a high level of visual information. The company will also announce the general availability of the Palm IIIe consumer model and the Palm Vx, a more powerful version of the popular Palm V.
Microsoft, not to be left behind, is demonstrating a wireless Windows CE handheld computer, co-developed with Casio and Siemens Computers. The machine will combine wireless internet connectivity with digital music capability and mobile phone features, running the latest version of the Windows CE operating system, codenamed Rapier.
IBM will show the first solid examples of its pervasive computing initiative, which promises internet access from a variety of devices including televisions, mobile phones and handheld computers. The company has been working on related hardware with both Palm and Microsoft over the past year.
In the notebook area, Cebit will see the arrival of a range of Vaio notebooks from Sony, compatible with the company's Memory Stick Ram modules and boasting 12mm flatpanel displays. The protocols these devices rely on have matured significantly in the past 12 months, so there will also be a number of Wap announcements, including handsets from Nokia, Ericsson and Mannesmann, soon to be owned by Vodafone.
The show will also see a suite of banking and brokerage services from Netlife for Wap-enabled phones and personal organisers. For the enterprise, Hewlett-Packard will be demonstrating its Wap servers, running Nokia's Wap server software, and customers will share their experiences of rolling out wireless applications.
Bluetooth, the latest version of which was announced last month, will appear in several product offerings, including TDK's PC cards and local area networking access points based on the wireless personal area networking protocol.
Convergence Voice/Data Systems
Cabletron Systems is aiming for a slice of the emerging convergent voice/data race, with the announcement of a packet voice strategy. The networking vendor will formally unveil its whole network offering and products that address packet technology. Look for the Smart Voice Gateway for fax and voice-over-IP, which will reduce the cost of intra-company fax and voice communications. The gateway features Layer 4 technology, which enables users to identify different types of packets coming over the network, prioritise voice traffic above data traffic, and route it more efficiently.
Lucent will be showcasing two mobile internet applications: a speech-driven web browser and its internet message management service, which allows users to receive email, voicemail, attachments and internet content on a wireless handset.
Several halls, open air sites and pavillions are set aside for all things telecom-related. Nortel and the Nortel Dasa division will be demonstrating its latest generation of internet-enabled call centre software.
Motorola, flush with the successful launch of its HTML compatible internet mobile phone, will release a lower-cost series of paging devices, including a PDA-like model that offers paging, email and internet connectivity.
Other office automation technologies to be showcased at Cebit include banking technology and smartcards - the latter focusing on a global system for mobile communications (GSM) handsets and pre-pay mobile phones.
IBM means business
The ebusiness halls look set to be dominated by IBM, which will be demonstrating products that automate the integration of S/390 applications and ebusiness systems. Created specially for the occasion, fictitious company Friendly Foods will be used as an example ebusiness. IBM's motto for Cebit is 'My business - ebusiness'.
Among other announcements, expect Progress Software's launch of its SonicMQ standalone Java messaging server, plus new additions to Quantum's Snap Server line of servers and tape drives.
Seeing is believing
So, there you have it - a view from 30,000 feet of the world's largest IT trade fair. If you can't get a ticket or don't fancy commuting in every day from Belgium, you may be tempted to kick back, go to the pub, and watch the football instead.
Of course, if you were to go to Cebit, you could sit and watch the football on the world's biggest-ever plasma display - an impressive 60-inch LG Electronics creation. Some things you have to see for yourself.
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