HANOVER, Germany – Hundreds of thousands of high-tech professionals are streaming to the annual CeBIT show this week, but the world's biggest information technology trade fair is not the draw it used to be.
Some of the industry's biggest names — Apple Inc. (AAPL), Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) have all withdrawn from CeBIT, and this year's event is going on without Motorola Inc. (MOT), Nokia Corp. (NOK), Seiko Epson Corp., Symantec Corp. (SYMC) and China's Lenovo (LNVGY).
Since 2001, when 850,000 visitors crowded the halls to get a first glance at upcoming technologies, the number of visitors has decreased almost by half.
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Six years ago more than 8,100 exhibitors came; this year there will be 6,059 companies from 77 countries on hand, 195 of them from the United States.
"It is not the number of halls which is relevant to us but the number of solutions presented here," said Ernst Raue, a manager with Deutsche Messe AG, which is organizing the event that formally opens its doors Thursday.
After all, he said, the products designed and manufactured by technology companies have become smaller — but that is not the reason for CeBIT's decline.
Instead, the trade fair has outgrown itself, he said.
But CeBIT is now in competition with other, more specific marquee events such as the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the 3GSM wireless industry trade fair, held last month in Barcelona, Spain.
In Germany, the annual Internationale Funkausstellung in Berlin is a competitor, and the Games Convention in Leipzig has been successful since its inception in 2002.
CeBIT still blends a bit of everything, from consumer products to the latest in back-end servers, said Willi Berchtold, the president of Bitkom, Germany's IT association.
"Nowhere else can innovations be seen in such diversity," he said. "Converging technologies require a large platform and this platform definitely exists only in one place in the world: here in Hanover."
Some of the key items on display this year focus on geographical information systems, or GIS, the European counterpart to the more common, and U.S.-operated global positioning system for satellite navigation.
Russia is also a major topic and CeBIT has made it the fair's partner country.
Since 2000, the volume of Russian software exports has increased by more than six times to $1.8 billion in 2006, Russian Information Technology Minister Leonid Reiman said in a statement.
About 150 Russian exhibitors are showing off their products and skills at CeBIT, despite the country's reputation as a haven for hackers.
CeBIT organizers have moved to keep the event relevant and plan to shorten it from seven days to six starting next year. It will also focus more on the professional segment, or businesses, instead of catering to hobbyists and the merely interested, Raue said.
And while some of the industry's biggest players are gone, others still view CeBIT as a "good barometer for the economic situation and the general feeling on the market," said Volker Smid, the European chief of software maker Novell, in an e-mail.
"We do not expect groundbreaking new developments at CeBIT," Smid said. "For years the industry has been developing in an evolutionary way, not in a revolutionary manner."