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Trade show fatigue?

Since it comes after two bigger trade shows, some analysts are suggesting that CTIA may be a quiet event for cell phones.

While working in the press room at CTIA 2007, I had an interesting conversation with one of my media colleagues. While talking about the lack of high-profile news in Orlando, he theorized that CTIA is just at the wrong time of year. He argued that since it follows both CES and the GSMA World Congress, CTIA ends up getting eclipsed by the earlier shows. So by the time CTIA rolls around, manufacturers are spent from trade show fatigue. As a remedy, he advocated switching the schedule of the two CTIA shows so that the bigger event comes in the autumn, while the smaller, I.T.-focused show would occur in the spring. Not only would such a schedule put a few months in between CTIA and GSMA, but also it would put the larger show smack in the middle of the holiday buying season.

It's an interesting theory and I can attest that after three trade shows in the same number of months, I suffer form trade show fatigue as well. Also, since the United States often gets second-banana treatment from many of the big handset manufacturers, the news at CTIA can be a bit anticlimactic. And of course, Apple can't be bothered to show up. While I don't believe that the company's absence makes CTIA irrelevant, I do think the industry would be better served by having one of its up-and-coming players attend.

So how will CTIA play out this year? Though I know that Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson will have new handsets to show in Las Vegas, RCR Wireless News seems to think that the show will be fairly quiet this year. The newspaper cited a couple of trends to support its theory, such as the slowing U.S. economy and reduced forecasts from some handset manufacturers, and it quoted a few pessimistic analysts that predicted a slow week.

No, analysts don't know everything, but their reasoning is sound. Besides the aforementioned timing issue, RCR Wireless News suggested that the need to remain competitive could also be an issue. For instance, manufacturers are increasingly worried that they may get negative press for missing a launch window on a high-profile device. Though it's a rule of trade shows that many of the new products introduced never make it to market (hello, Kyocera), perhaps that's becoming less accepted. Another analyst said that manufacturers fear that announcing a product too early may reveal too much to their competition. What's more, it can be difficult to distinguish your products at a huge trade show with so many other companies clamoring for attention.

For all of these reasons, we may see manufacturers start to stick to their own schedules and announce big-ticket products in the summer, shortly before the holiday buying season. Not only would that make it easier to stand out from the crowd, but you can make sure your product is really ready before unveiling it to the world.

So what do you think? How will CTIA play out this year? And should the spring and fall shows change places?