CeBIT 2007: Is this the end of CeBIT for Taiwan companies?

Ricky Morris,, Taipei 0

As everyone in Hannover, Germany begins the process of packing up and returning to Taiwan, the question that all companies are asking is was it all worth it? For many – including some of the biggest Taiwan IT names – the answer is no.

According to data released by CeBIT organizers Deutsche Messe, Taiwan was still the largest represented Asian country in terms of exhibitors with 602 companies attending this year. However, this figure was down significantly from 2006 which saw 711 companies attending, and the falling trend is set to continue based on recent comments from company sources.

The list of no-shows in 2007 included Acer, HTC, and Shuttle, a significant result as all three companies have particularly strong performance in Europe compared to other markets. Shuttle announced as early as October 2006 that it had decided not to attend the 2007 event citing previous difficulty in reaching key decision-makers. This move by the Taiwan-PC maker was especially telling as in other years the company was regarded as having one of the largest presences at the show. Additionally, Shuttle has an advantage over most other Taiwan companies as it has a branch office located in Germany which could offer support.

For many of the companies that did exhibit this year it seems that decision was not reached lightly. "In business you are always having to look at your potential ROI (return on investment)," said a representative at one of the largest Taiwan motherboard and notebook makers just weeks before the event, "And with CeBIT we're just not seeing any." In the run up to March 15, sources at many companies were talking about scaled back budgets and last-minute changes of plan, leading expectations to be lukewarm at best; and it seems coming out of the show this poor outlook was either met or exceeded, with Asustek and Gigabyte Technology reportedly already having announced they will likely not be returning in 2008.

Another trend that emerged was the decision of key industry players not to syncronise their product launches with the event as had been typical in the past. With Nvidia deciding to not attend itself and to schedule the launch of its upcoming mainstream and low-end graphics chips, the G86 and G84, for April, it looked at first that AMD would have the floor all to itself for the launch of its new Direct X 10-based R600 GPU. However, this decision was canceled just weeks before the show, leaving Taiwan graphics card makers, on both sides, with nothing but variations of old products to display.

Motherboard makers had the launch of Intel's new DDR3-supporting Bearlake chipset to act as a key event, but even then only two mid- to low-end versions were ready, with the high-end version - which also adds PCI Express 2.0 support – not expected until the second quarter. MSI, which was not only a launch partner with Intel introducing six Bearlake-motherboards but also one of the largest exhibitors at CeBIT according to the company's representative, revealed that it will be cutting back in 2008. Another launch partner, ECS, admitted that it had scaled back its original plans for CeBIT 2007 as was likely to do so even further in 2008.

For handset makers, CeBIT came just a month after the GSM World Congress which was also held in Europe (Barcelona, Spain) meaning that for these companies CeBIT was little more than a repeat performance. Gigabyte Communications showed two new handsets, one supporting digital mobile TV and the other 3.5G connectivity but said that 2007 was the first year it had attended CeBIT, and would most probably be the last. E-TEN which also introduced a 3.5G handset was less decisive stating that in 2008 GSM World would be its main focus, but it may consider attending CeBIT in order to ensure it reaches as wide an audience as possible.

One of a few companies that appeared to be bucking to negative trend was Walton Chaintech which introduced its new Apogee GT series of high-end memory. Having all but left the European market in recent years, the company announced that it is ready to increase its presence there again with CeBIT serving as a platform to reach its target audience.

Of the notebook makers MSI had things to say about the potential for the built-in media center capabilities of Widows Vista to boost notebooks into the home theater PC (HTPC) market segment, adding that this will drive the addition of HDMI connectors and larger screens into new notebooks. However, the only new product it launched was part of its luxury Crystal collection which did not fall into the HTPC category. BenQ was another company that did not attend the show.

With the commitment from so many Taiwan companies towards CeBIT 2008 so unenthusiastic it is uncertain, at least from a Taiwan company's perspective, whether future CeBIT dates will be something to mark on your calendar.