Saturday, June 20, 2009

CommunicAsia 2009

Revisiting Singapore after a 30+ year wait, it was like the other Singapore I remembered never existed. We did get to the Raffles' Long Bar for Singapore Slings one evening, but even that place had been upgraded. The Raffles Hotel was a dump back in the 70's. It's been refurbished and expanded a hundredfold since then. The city is impeccably clean and its residents are very friendly. The Ibis Hotel, where we stayed, was merely okay. The staff were nice, but the amenities are not up to standard. The rooms were small, but typical for Asia. Their TV channels were few, and no pay per view. They did not have room service. Breakfast buffet is usually an extra S$17/day, but of course, BS managed to negotiate that, too. I swear that guy can haggle on anything...

Debashish, from Insta - our booth designer, stayed until we were happy with the quality of our custom booth space. Fan, the booth contractor did a remarkable job getting the space ready. All the men from Shyam and VNL put the base station together which took about six hours because a) the parts were mislabeled, b) no one looked at the instructions, and c) every decision was by committee. Rajneesh, Carlo, Niyati and I shopped for all the booth paraphernalia which took a whole day of prep.

CommunicAsia 2009 proved remarkable considering the global economy. Attendance was good along the main aisle, but deadly on the alleys and byways. The ratio of booth babes to attendees was probably 1:10, much higher than shows in the States. A lot of the booth babes working the show were walking the aisles in skimpy outfits with signs or passing out brochures to drive traffic back to those booths. Ericsson and Nokia weren't there, but ZTE and Huawei were. Carlo said they were using the same stands as in previous shows.

CommunicAsia is a big show, probably 500 exhibitors overall utilizing four halls at the Singapore Expo. We were located on the main aisle, right behind LG's two story booth which looked pretty much like a hair salon, all pinks, purples and lavender. Across the aisle was Powerwave, who brought a Formula 1 simulator. Powerwave is a direct competitor to Shyam Telecom whose booth space faced the byway. This simulator attracted a lot of traffic which congested the main aisle. They had booth babes along the main aisle passing out clipboards with forms for attendees to complete - for what? I have no idea. It got so congested between onlookers and people filling out forms that people spilled into our booth to get around the congestion. I'd had it when they started using my reception desk for clipboards.

I walked over and found out who was in charge of the booth and approached him. I told him that the noise from the simulator was way too loud and needs to be turned down. I also told him that he needed to keep his staff on his side of the aisle. He replied that there was nothing in the rules that said he had to and that pissed me off. I started arguing with him. He refused to move his babes off the main aisle.

"See the red line in the center of the aisle? That's the DMZ. Keep your people on your side and we won't have a problem."

He told me that I didn't want to go there.

"I'm already there," I replied. "See the size of my booth? (120 square meters) See the size of yours? (maybe 36) When I go and complain to the show services, who do you think they'll want to keep happy?" He continued with the noise, but the babes moved off. It's tough being a good neighbor at these shows when everyone is competing for attention, something we didn't have a problem with - we felt like the prettiest girl at the dance. All the mobile operators attending the show came to our booth to see our solution, which was very well received. A gent from Nigeria complained about his US$ 110 million he spent on diesel fuel last year and said if he spent half of that on our bases stations, he'd be a much richer man.

On day 1, Rajiv presented a session on Microtelecom that sent a lot of conference attendees to the booth to get more information on our business model. Tony Chan of CNBC interviewed Rajiv about the products and business model. We pushed the press conference scheduled for the next day and collected business cards. The VIP tour showcased a selection of ten vendors including VNL, and Ministers from 17 countries stopped by. Comments overheard were, "This is much simpler than the solution we saw in Sweden" and "If it works in India, it can work anywhere."

On Day 2, Bridget, our PR consultant produced our press conference announcing that VNL's solar-powered GSM base stations for rural networks were now commercially available. Rajiv was interviewed by a number of journalists following that. The Day 3 Official Daily Show paper featured an article about VNL. Day 3 also featured the Green Telecom stream hosted by Laina Green of TelecomTV (love her!). Mats presented the keynote speech and Rajiv joined the panel that discussed green telecom. There were a lot of attendees at this event.

Evening events I went to were sponsored mostly by the news companies, Questex and TelecomTV. Both were good, well attended events where marketers like myself got to meet with many journalists. It really helped to be able to spend "quality time" getting to know these people as they'll be important to our PR efforts moving forward. I really enjoyed meeting Laina and Neal of TelecomTV and networking with other telecom marketers, especially since I have no history with previous shows to compare our results.

On my last night, Carlo and I went to Low Pa Sat to eat Singaporean street food. We gorged on barbecued stingray, chilli crayfish, prawns, beef satay and peppered beef, washing it down with Tiger Beer on ice. It was an extremely tasty meal, but one hint - wear a bib when you try to eat seafood with chopsticks. My shirt was a mess.

Overall, CommunicAsia was a big success, which is a huge relief for me. We're doing ten trade shows this year. CommunicAsia is the first of the shows for which I am responsible. At the same time, the West & Central AfricaCom Conference was being held in Abuja, Nigeria, where we were also exhibiting. Next week is AmericasCom in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Word from Abujs is that our booth was mobbed. We had conversations with 6 or 7 journalists as well. Judging from the response from the industry, VNL is in position to make serious change in the industry. See you in the future. :-)

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