One of the big themes at CeBIT 2007 will be geographical information systems, including the controversial Galileo project — the European equivalent of the US satellite-based Global Positioning System.
The trade show, which is taking place in Hanover, northern Germany, between 15 and 21 March, decided to go big on the topic of GIS after a survey of 5,000 sample visitors last year indicated that it was a key area of interest.
"The survey showed that Europeans think it is important to get a global navigation satellite system that is independent of GPS. The critical thing is that GPS service levels are not guaranteed. The system was originally designed for the US army, so, of course, it has the right to shut it down when it needs to or to optimise the signal for military use," explains Dr Sven Prüser, senior vice president of CeBIT.
On the other hand, Galileo, which is being built by the European Union and European Space Agency, and which is scheduled to be operational by 2010, will be a civil system. According to Prüser, it will have "guaranteed high service levels and because it's being built in co-operation with countries like India and China, there'll be more satellites in different parts of the world so measurements will be more precise".
This means that the system will be of great interest to business, he believes, and will open up a host of opportunities for organisations to create and exploit new products and services in areas such freight forwarding and fleet and traffic management.
As a result, the trade show plans to establish a forum area called CeBIT in Motion to showcase different offerings in the telematics and navigation sector and provide match-making services to bring different interested parties together to explore whether they can find ways of working together.
The forum will also host presentations and panel discussions from experts in the field, with keynote speakers including Martin Ripple, programme director for Galileo, and Pedro Pedreira, executive director of the GNSS Supervisory Authority.
The GNSS, formerly known as the International GPS Service, is a voluntary federation of more than 200 agencies worldwide, which pools resources and station data from GPS and GLONASS, the Russian equivalent, to support earth science research, education and the like.
But Russia will also be CeBIT's partner country this year. Over 150 Russian exhibitors, including Kaspersky Labs and Russoft, the Russian Software Developers Association, will take part, a more than tenfold increase since 1991, which indicates the growing importance of IT to the country's economy.
Russia is now the fourth largest exhibitor nation at the show and participants will present their wares under one of four categories — communications, business processes, banking and finance, and digital equipment and systems.
Another key theme at CeBIT, meanwhile, will be security, and biometrics in particular. Prüser explains: "This topic still continues to increase in importance and this year, we even ran out of exhibitor space because there was so much demand."
To reflect this interest, one of the show's main keynote speakers will be John Thompson, chief executive of security company Symantec. He will give a presentation on Friday 16 March about the growing importance of safeguarding corporate information and business processes, rather than simply devices.
"What we try to do with the keynotes is represent key parts of the industry to provide a kind of portfolio," Prüser explains. The main keynote speaker, however, will be Patricia Russo, chief executive of...
...the newly formed Alcatel Lucent, which merged earlier this year. She will talk about the rationale behind the move and where she sees the telecoms industry going.
But CeBIT will also be branching out into new areas of information provision. First, it will launch CeBIT Next, a portal to enable attendees to network, share ideas and rate each other's suggestions. The portal was jointly designed and implemented by IBM and Deutsche Messe, the exhibition company that owns CeBIT, and will be divided into three key areas — Future Fair, Future Work/Life and Future Health.
The second initiative is CeBIT TV, a web TV initiative that will be broadcast all year round and offers three channels. Create will be aimed at IT professionals, Trade will be targeted at resellers and Use will focus on IT users who are interested in industry developments from both a professional and personal point of view.
This is all a far cry from 1986, when CeBIT first came into being as an offshoot of the Hanover Export Fair. The latter was set up in 1947 by Deutsche Messe AG, an organisation that was created at the instigation of British occupying forces in Hanover in consultation with the commander-in-chief of the American zone.
The aim of the fair was to try and restart Germany's export trade in order to make her economically self-reliant again, after the devastation of the Second World War. As a result, the profile of Hermes, the god of trade, was chosen as the show's logo, and is still used as the Hanover Fair's moniker today.
Prüser explains the rationale: "The military government decided to do a trade fair to try and kick start the German economy and it was one of the most successful ideas that any British government has had. In fact, Prince Andrew once said that the only thing he wasn't satisfied with was that 'we handed the Hanover Messe over to the Germans'."
By 1950, however, the Hanover Fair had been renamed the German Industrial Fair or Deutsche Industrie-Messe and office equipment — as high tech kit was then known — was the third largest exhibitor group.
But by 1970, the category had risen in importance to such an extent that Deutsche Messe AG opened Hall One, which later found its way into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest single-storey exhibition space.
With the inauguration of the new hall, the decision was taken to re-brand the high-tech exhibition as the Centre for Office and Information Technology, or CeBIT (Centrum fuer Buero und Informationstechnik). But the number of exhibitors and attendees continued to expand in line with the growth of the sector and by 1986, it was decided to spin it off as a separate trade show, to be followed a month later by the original Hanover Fair.
The organisers now claim that CeBIT is the largest IT trade show in the world, and they even host various satellite shows in different regions of the world such as Shanghai, Istanbul and Sydney.
"CeBIT's main differentiator is that it looks at a broad range of topics. There are lots of specialist shows, but CeBIT is the only one to combine different areas, all of which have a synergy between them," concludes Prüser.