Canadian Telecom Summit - No News is Good News - I Guess...

Have been remiss in posting about this show, which started on Monday, so here's my take after the first two days.

Let me back up and first explain things. This week is the 4th year of the Canadian Telecom Summit, which is based here in Toronto. For once, a show I don't have to travel for!

The show is put together by Mark Goldberg and Michael Sone, both consultants, who are real veterans of the Canadian telecom market. They aren't in the show business - they just do this as an annual one-off, and it's grown into a star-studded event. Hats off to Mark and Michael - they sure know how pull in the right people.

The speaking roster is impressive, with President/CEOs of major telcos and vendors, including Michael Sabia - Bell, Darren Entwistle - Telus, Michael Capellas - MCI, Bill Owens - Nortel, Don Peterson - Avaya, David Hemler - Microsoft Canada, John MacDonald - Allstream, Jeff Citron - Vonage, Mark Henderson - Ericsson Canada, Albert Maringer - Siemens Canada, Hubert de Pesquidoux - Alcatel Canada, Bill Linton - Call Net, and others. You get the picture.

From what I've seen, the show has been really well run, and quite well attended - probably about 500 people. The show is different from most in that there are no exhibitors - just presentations and breakouts. The tradeoff is that the presentations have a bit more pitch and promotion than you see elsewhere, but that's ok. I haven't seen anything out of line, so nothing really to complain about.

For now, I'm just going to post my high level impressions - hopefully I can add to this tomorrow....

- So far, IMS and selling IP to SMBs have been strong themes. You need to keep in mind that the Canadian market is a good year behind the US on a number of IP fronts, and from talking to people, these themes were pretty new.

- Presentations and panel discussions have been pretty high level. Not a lot about strategic direction, and not a lot of vision stuff. I don't have the stats, but the audience makeup seems to be heavy on carriers rather than vendors or enterprises. So, I can see the presenters not wanting to give away too much. That's ok, but if you were looking for cutting edge developments, I haven't seen that here yet. Of course, tomorrow is another day!

- So far, Jeff Citron's presentation was the closest to a reality check on what's going on with IP, and he projects an energy level - ok, it's polished, but he's good! - that I really don't see in the other speakers. Not surprisingly, he left us with a provocative line that could probably only come from Vonage - "fire your phone company, they don't deserve your business". It's so... un-Canadian... but would you expect it any other way from them? VoIP is happening now, and as Jeff notes, it's all about empowering the consumer with choice. On that thought, Jeff also did a great job positioning Vonage against the bundle. He basically said that bundles limit choice for the consumer, and that's probably the best way to counter the bundle.

- Micheal Sabia also gave a great presentation over lunch. He echoed Jeff's mantra about choice and consumer empowerment, but his overall message was a much more direct response to the May 12 CRTC ruling on VoIP. Anyone following the market here knows that the incumbents are not happy with the outcome, and Michael framed his argument in the context of global competitiveness. His view is that communications and tech are the drivers of productivity and competitiveness, and the CRTC's ruling continues the kind of thinking that is causing Canada to lag and lose ground to other countries in this regard. This was another big picture theme that has come up in a few presentations, especially Bill Owens. He did a great job explain how countries like Korea and China have adopted tech infrastructure as a cornerstone of economic policy, and they are quickly reaping the benefits. The message here is that Canada needs to follow this model or they will continue to slip, especially compared to the US, their most important trading partner. This is the closest thing I've seen at the show to vision from these leaders, and I agree with them. It's easy to see this as sour grapes from Bell, but I'd much rather see Bell, Telus, etc. be in this market and putting their resources to good use. Of course, if it doesn't go to good use - i.e. being anti-competitive - well, that's what the regulators are there for. The MSOs and Vonages of the world will not go out of business tomorrow if the incumbents come to market. There's plenty of room for everybody.

- Finally, having been to a number of US shows recently, I found it odd that there have been no big press releases, announcements or launches at the show. The closest I've seen is from Vonage Canada today, announcing they've expanded their service footprint. It's good news, but not really a big story. Of course, the nature of this show doesn't really lend itself to a lot of hoopla, and the market is still very nascent here, so most of the big stories are unfolding quietly, at least for now. I suspect this won't be the case when Mark and Michael do this again next year!

For more coverage of the show, Mark Evans posted his insights about the opening presentations, and I'm onside with his basic take on these.