31 Dec 2008

2008: meeting the challenges; 2009: more of the same

It's probably not very hard to work out that one reason for my writing this blog is to raise the profile of our Com World Series suite of telecoms sector discussion/networking/exhibition events. However, were I to do nothing more than copy text from our marketing materials and paste it here, I daresay I would get bored even faster than anyone reading these entries. For me at least, it's been fun to look out for telecoms-related news and then relate it to accounts of the people we meet and the things we hear while creating and attending these gatherings.

Reading back over my posts, I do notice that the need to promote our conferences seems to lead to my adopting a fairly optimistic tone when describing developments in the emerging markets in which we, our delegates and sponsors/exhibitors do business.

I make no excuses for this. A big part of my team's work is to keep reminding telecoms tech vendors of the technology requirements of operators in higher growth markets. We then strive to persuade the vendors that two days at a Com World Series show, meeting representatives of telcos from all over the region it serves, represents a time-efficient and cost-effective route to market. It therefore comes naturally to us to be bullish about growth prospects in the parts of the world in which we connect vendors with their customers and prospective customers.

However, in order to do this, I don't believe we have to misrepresent the positive buzz we experience in our conference rooms and exhibition areas. As recently as Saturday last week, I noted the optimism expressed by speakers at this month's Middle East region Com World Series event in Dubai.

However, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that this has been a challenging year for many of the people with whom we engage worldwide. If I were to confine my reading to telecoms industry news sources, I might be seduced into thinking that the countries and regions in which our friends and partners work are places typified by glad tidings of subscriber growth and market liberalisation. Of course, it's not possible to keep an eye on these parts of the world without getting a wider sense of what life there is really like. By talking with telecoms people from around the world, I am fortunate enough to hear from primary sources about the more difficult aspects of living and working in their various home (and adopted) countries. This adds colour and detail to the items I see on the TV news. More importantly, I get to see sensible people who go about their business very effectively in challenging environments. Further, the efforts of these people are combining to catalyse positive change - I am thinking in terms of things like:
  • how telecoms services reaching the world's less advantaged people quickly improves and enriches their lives
  • microfinance initiatives, sachet pricing and other measures designed to make services more affordable
  • green power technologies and innovative backhaul solutions designed to get services into remote and often impoverished areas
In this final blog entry of 2008, then, I find myself reflecting on the signs of trouble in the world of which my globe-trotting makes me more aware.

A news item which resonated for me last week was one picked up by myriad telecoms blogs and news portals, orginiating, I believe from this Reuters report. This was widely covered, so I won't repeat every detail here. To summarise, the story concerns a Nokia store in India being attacked by protestors enraged by the fact that the handset maker's mapping software shows Indian-claimed Kashmir as being within the borders of Pakistan. I was immediately reminded of a similar problem experienced by the Com World Series team. Some time ago, brochures were designed to promote our annual India & South Asia region event. One graphic element of the brochure was a map of the region from which delegates were to be gathered. The designer unwittingly committed much the same faux pas with regard to Kashmir as Nokia's mappers seem to have done. A contact in India was kind enough to point this out before the brochures were put in the mail - but once they had been printed... you live and learn...

Last week's Reuters story notes that "political sensitivities are an increasing problem for map making software vendors - such as how to deal with disputed borders or even national claims on areas such as Taiwan or Cyprus", going on to add that "back in 2001, Panasonic had a 12 month ban import imposed on it for selling phones in China which listed Taiwan as a separate country on the internal phonebook."

Our business has faced more serious and more costly problems than that in 2008. For example, the 2009 iteration of the India & South Asia conference, which was meant to take place early in the new year, has been pushed back to May as a result of the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai, the host city for the event. This is not without precedent. Earlier this year, our East Africa Com event was shifted from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam as a result of the unrest in Kenya following on from the disputed election results of December 2007.

On my own travels, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks roaming around South America this year, working to boost attendance at our annual Americas Com event. One stop on the tour was Bolivia, where I visited operators in two cities, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. In both of these, we could not fail to notice signs of the differences over the exploitation of energy resources which underlie recurring political crises. My understanding is that there exists a resultant desire for greater autonomy for some of the country's regions. We saw a demonstration in one city and plenty of related grafitti in the other.

These observations notwithstanding, I am choosing to face 2009 with determination to overcome any obstacles to my own aims which created by economic turmoil and political conditions. This is made easier by the great spirit and good fellowship I find among many, many telecoms people worldwide who face far greater levels of challenge than I or my team ever have to detal with. On that note, I wish you all a Happy New Year.