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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK

Business: The Economy

In the hall of mirrors

Richard Quest reporting from Telecom 99

A personal look at doing business at the world telecoms trade fair, by the BBC's Richard Quest in Geneva.

Some stands cost thirty million dollars.

The telecoms revolution
Most of the large companies have video walls, meeting rooms and staircases wandering off into the rafters.

Telecom 99 is a chance to see and - more importantly - be seen.

[ image: All done with smoke and mirrors - the Motorola stand]
All done with smoke and mirrors - the Motorola stand
And where you are is where you stand.

Everyone wants to be in Hall 2-5, the centre of the show - not that you'd ever get the organisers to admit some places are better than others.

I have rarely ventured to the mysterious Hall 7, and Hall 8 might as well be on the moon.

But all the big players are next to each other - vying for attention with a cacophony of noise, videos and live acts, including, in the case of the Russian delegation, traditional dancers in costume.

Gallic pride

And bigger is best. For instance the battle for the biggest stand, once again has been won by the French telephone company Alcatel. It is a matter of Gallic pride for this company to have the largest stand at this event.

[ image: At your service .. the Belgacom Robot]
At your service .. the Belgacom Robot
Positioned next to the main entrance, and with a multi-million dollar display including actors, music and dry smoke, it quickly became one of the trade fair's main attractions.

In terms of stand size not far behind was Lucent Technologies, with Japan's NEC, and the US's Hewlett Packard leading a host of also-rans.

Massive party

Others chose to put their money elsewhere. Finland's mobile phone maker Nokia, for example, has a smaller stand but a bigger party.

Thousands gathered under a huge tent in the heart of Geneva to listen to Bo Didley play, watch magicians perform, and drink as much as they could.

This was corporate entertaining on a vast scale and an indication of the importance of the event for doing business.

As the company_s public relations chief pointed out, no one remembers the stand but everyone remembers the party.

Free dry-cleaning

With more than one thousand exhibitors and over a hundred thousand customers and visitors, everyone is schmoozing and doing deals and exchanging business cards (I ran out on the second day).

As one Motorola executive put it;

"It's a chance to get everyone together in the same room.

"If a client has a problem we can get all five people who can help at the same time."

And thinking the unthinkable is crucial - as I discovered when I spilled mayonnaise down my suit.

No problem, said the woman at the Siemens' stand, clearly used to messy executive fumbling their vol-au-vents.

The jacket was dry cleaned, on the stand, there and then.

But is it worth the cost?

Some clearly say not.

British Telecom has shunned the event this time round, preferring to limit its considerable presence to promoting Concert - it's new $10bn venture with America's AT&T.

And IBM has gone 'off site' adopting an elitist approach of holding its events at a nearby hotel and offering shuttle busses to the chosen few who are invited along.

A quick visit to the Nortel Corporate room really showed the scope and ability to do a deal at Telecom 99.

All the tables were full, the drinks were being poured and the briefcases were open.

Whether or not any deals were actually signed didn't seem to matter. The Nortel executive - who didn't want to be named - said that the relationships he made here helped him do business later in the year.

Gadgets galore

Then, of course, there is the chance to show "the best you've got."

In the case of Motorola, it was showing the Minister of Information from China around the stand and extolling the virtues of the new cellular phones that offer internet access.

As a Motorola wag said, "Hey, it's China. It's big."

Also viewed on my trips round the halls, were the Ministers of Communications from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Cote D'Ivoire. All here to see what their nations could enjoy - that is, when they have the money to afford them.

Telecom 99 is a sales and schmooze festival of enormous proportions.

In a city the size of Geneva it has caused gridlock for miles, and a tripling of hotel rates for the week.

But you have to draw the line somewhere.

In my case it is using the mobile phone in the toilet. Using 'the facilities' often sounded like a telephone exchange instead.

Mobile phone conversations poured out from the various stalls.

My phone rang as I walked into the loo. As I went to answer it I thought: No. They're just going to have to wait. I can't.

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