Last year, Alan Masarek made news as he left Google to become Vonage’s new CEO.
Golly Gee, has it already been fourteen years since we’ve had a Comptel here in Nashville? Hadn’t we already learned our lesson before? And we even had it at this same place, the Opryland Hotel. The only difference is last time there was a huge amusement park connected next door. Since then, in the name of Nashville “Improvement”, they took out all the rides, filled in the cement ponds and rivers, and asphalted the eighty acres to form a huge parking lot, bringing in a huge strip mall so Billy Bob can choose from an assortment of one hundred bass fishing boats (I kid you not) while the kids eat at twenty different fast food kiosks and moms can sit on over sixty wide body Barcalounger massage chairs to vibrate their cares away. What a nice break from the double-wide. Sure, I remember why we were here fourteen years ago; Bernie Ebbers wanted us all to come to Nashville and back then, what Bernie wanted, Bernie got. These days Bernie gets two boxed meals of baloney sandwiches a day plus one hot meal, all courtesy of the Federal Corrections Department, but we can return to that story another time. So, why did Comptel decide we had to come back to Opryland now? Does anyone believe in coincidences? Just six months ago we had our show at the Gaylord Hotel in Dallas. Now we are here at the Gaylord Hotel in Nashville. Want to make a wild guess as to how many more Gaylord Hotels we will be resting our heads at in the near future during upcoming Comptel shows? How does the next two of three shows sound? Does that mean Comptel attendees are getting some kind of discount or break? Of course not. Call me cynical, but why the changes in venue to second and third tier cities like Dallas and Nashville? Sure, Southwest Airlines appreciates the business, but ask the members where we prefer to have our meetings. Orlando, Vegas, San Diego, and even New Orleans, are consistently top-requested favorites. Naples, Florida ranks before Nashville and Dallas. Yet after a brief stopover fall 2008 at the sure fire winner of a convention hotel, the Marriott in Orlando, we will be heading right back to retread locations, at the Gaylord properties in Nashville and Dallas. And don’t forget about the fifteen dollars per day of hidden fees they tack on as a “resort charge” that amounts to two bottles of Gaylord water. I did attend a few meetings, and of course, I strolled the rows of exhibitors, which I always find fascinating. In fact, attending the exhibit hall is by far the highlight of Comptel, especially when they have the bar open at nighttime, and the waiters are serving those tasty eggrolls. I usually locate myself strategically at an exhibit next to the service entrance to secure the maximum amount of free salty, fried munchies and tasty beverages that are sure to come by my way. A lot of business is transacted in the tradeshow booths, and aisle-ways as well. Occasionally, between mouthfuls of fried cheese and spinach phyllo dough, I look to buy some Cuba minutes at $.49. It’s the Holy Grail of minutes buying. Everyone wants it. Everyone has heard of someone else who has it and that it works, but no one seems to know where it is. So I stuff another fried morsel in my mouth and tackle another row of telecom merchants. There are an abundant source of DID vendors. The field for nationwide DID used to be dominated by Level 3 and XO Communications, but now Paetec and Time Warner and a host of other players are fielding classy exhibit booths with plenty of staff to demonstrate their wares. Local services, VoIP, anything Mobile, are all offered in abundance here. Shockingly, the surprise of the show is that you can’t buy plain wholesale LD anymore. Traditional 800 service offerings are getting scarce from many of the Tier One carriers. XO won’t sell it to you. Sprint is like Mother Hubbard with almost nothing but bare shelves unless you count IP Bandwidth or MPLS Service (Multi Protocol Label Switching). Seriously, I was so baffled to hear that Sprint carrier reps could no longer sell 800 service or simple LD or even international terminations, which I once won a big screen from because I guess I bought a lot of service during a contest they had. I still have the TV; it works better than the Sprint service DID. They used to give away one year leases on Mercedes as well, for you old timers, but I guess no more. Just MPLS, which I had to Google to find out what it even meant, and IP Bandwidth, which they price two times more than Level 3 or AT&T, so I will have to stick with my incumbents for now. A shocker, the big guys don’t want my LD business anymore! Well that’s not entirely true. There’s always AT&T. Even through all the mergers and evolutions of Southwestern Bell, what is now AT&T, they managed to hold on to a core group of really good people, this team of both buyers and sellers stem back from the early days of deregulation and companies acquired by AT&T such as ACC. So, AT&T is really in the business to both buy and sell to the carrier marketplace. Lastly, they still place emphasis on a little used term for international traffic: Quality. It’s very frustrating to negotiate five good contracts at a show and suffer through all the turn-up process hassles only to find out that none of the five new contracts can actually handle any of the traffic they offered great rates for. AT&T seems to be the Big Exception. I believe we all continue to attend tradeshows and fill up our days with meetings in order to find other exceptions, like AT&T; Quality carriers with aggressive pricing. Be prepared to pay a deposit or prepay, though. With the product they currently offer and resulting backlog of orders, they have become very picky about new entrants to the party. Wish I could wax on about other big carriers, but Qwest and Global Crossing haven’t made a splash in some time, with products or a party. They both have good teams of people and the capability though, so I have my hopes up. Level 3 doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Were they even at the tradeshow? Finally, applause to keynote speaker Arunas Chesonis, CEO of Paetec. Weird name for a company, but they are, by several acquisitions, a powerhouse, nationwide, fiber-based, 1.5 billion dollar a year, full service local and long distance carrier. Profitable, too. Maybe that’s why their employees seem to be having so much fun? Someone once commented that the many telecom shows sprung across America was like working on a rock tour. With stopovers like Nashville though I must say it more resembles something like being a carnie or a roustabout for a traveling circus. Every Sunday our exhibits open up exactly as they were in the previous city, two weeks before, all too often giving out the same candy left over from Orlando or Dallas, or the same coffee cup or Frisbee with the company logo emblazoned boldly on the top left over from the last Las Vegas show. These handouts are destined to be stuffed in the show bag, straight to the bottom of the luggage next to the dirty socks, later to be gifted to the young ones at home when they ask what you shopped for them while you were out of town. How thoughtful of you. More trinkets, please! The Telecom world mourns the loss of Cherry Communications and their Swag, especially the cherry Speedos they handed out. Nashville Comptel highlights: Opryland Bar that rotates; as if five beers doesn’t make you dizzy enough. The Downtown Scene actually had decent enough live music and a few good BBQ joints. Opryland Hotel and Meeting Center though goes from D- to D-. Some things, like Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson, time just can’t improve. Nashville Comptel Lowlights: The badge mooches. A growing number of telecom professionals, and I use that term loosely, travel from across the USA, spending on airfare and hotels but electing to save on their budget expenditures by not buying a Comptel meeting or exhibit hall pass, thereby saving a whopping $500, thus depriving the non-profit organization of the event where all the business transactions get done. There are no free rides folks. It doesn’t matter if you don’t avail yourself to the seminars and symposiums. The proceeds from Credential sales are a vital source of funding for the show itself and the overall operations of Comptel. Everyone should consider this and only schedule meetings with people who are wearing Comptel badges. I will now step off my soap box. The record breaking attendance of 2000 plus, announced by the irrepressible Sherm Henderson, the “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Comptel, i.e. Board Chairman for Life, is more an indicator that our industry is as strong as ever rather than Nashville being a good locale for a trade show. I suppose Barstow, California could draw the same crowd as long as there were enough venues for people to meet and do deals. Still, it is to the credit of the over paid staff at Comptel, and the volunteers as well, that after the meltdown of telecom during 2000, and the tragedy the nation experienced with 9/11, Comptel has rebounded and rebuilt attendance levels to the boom years of the 1990’s. Now, if we could only get Sprint and a few other Big Dogs to throw those parties again, Comptel would be a rip-roaring time to write about again. Luckily, we have a Channel Partners in Las Vegas feature in the next article. And what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. A little about our columnist Big Dave: He is an active participant in the telecom world and considers himself a veteran having attended Comptel, ACTA, ALTS, TRA, and TEXALTEL meetings for over twenty years. Big Dave is his screen name, and he will be submitting an article once a month, with shorter commentaries added to the blog more frequently. Feel free to write in and add your opinion.