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Highs and lows of CeBit America 1.0

reporter's notebook CeBit's U.S. incarnation starts not with a bang but a whimper: Attendance falls short of expectations, and some exhibitors doubt they'll return. Others, though, give a thumbs-up.

NEW YORK--The CeBit technology show began its U.S. incarnation not with a bang but a whimper.

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CeBit America, which completed its run here Friday, had much of the breadth but not nearly the vast scale of the ur-CeBit, held each year in Hannover, Germany. This year, the German show drew more than 560,000 people to displays of PCs, telecommunications gear, cell phones, games and other technology.

CeBit America version 1.0 was vastly smaller. Earlier this week, show organizers said they expected 20,000 to 25,000 attendees, but the turnout appears to have been closer to 15,000, said Mark Dineen, managing director of CeBit America.

On the rosy side, though, the quality of attendees was good, and CeBit America won't have to start from scratch next year, Dineen said. For 2004, the organization's goal is to exceed 20,000 to 25,000 attendees and to draw more businesspeople rather than just technology specialists, he said.

Some exhibitors hoped for more booth visitors. "This is very slow, in my opinion," said Todd Bellows, a sales manager for Logicube, which makes devices to quickly copy hard drives. Bellows said he doesn't think the company is planning on coming back.

One happier customer was Larry Sheffield, senior vice president of marketing for NEC Solutions of America, whose crash-resistant Intel server product won the best-in-show award. Next year, NEC will be back, and with more divisions of the company represented, he said.

"Obviously CeBit America is not as big, but it is CeBit," Sheffield said.

CeBit stands for Centrum der Buero- und Informationstechnik--in English, that's the Center for Office and Information Technology. It's the largest trade show in Europe and much larger than Comdex, the biggest U.S. computer trade show.

Like many trade shows in the financially strapped technology industry, Comdex has seen declining attendance. To survive, shows have tightened their focus to specific sectors of the industry--a "vertical" approach.

CeBit organizers have adopted a hybrid plan that recognizes the specialization of vertical markets but also the fact that many computer equipment buyers have to make decisions spanning a broader range of the industry.

"We're trying to bring a vertical mentality inside a horizontal show," Dineen said.

And CeBit America isn't designed to have the scale of the German version, which draws ordinary computer shoppers as well as businesspeople.

"We're not looking to transplant Germany to here," Dineen said.