For those not at Gitex Technology in Dubai this week, Amsterdam is the place to be.
Technology experts from the UAE and the wider Arabian Gulf have joined the procession to the Netherlands capital for the Broadband World Forum, which runs until Thursday. The forum styles itself “the world’s largest broadband event”, a global showcase for ground-breaking broadband technologies, applications, solutions and services.
Some of the visiting experts possess the hottest tickets in town – the right to take part in tomorrow’s “executive summit”, which has developed into the highlight of the annual conference and exhibition.
As the title suggests, the executive summit is not the sort of gathering just anyone can attend. Invitations are restricted to “CxO” level – broadly, decision-makers whose job titles commonly begin with chief and end with officer. The summit is part of a three-day conference and exhibition expected to attract influential industry figures to the RAI convention centre.
Run according to so-called Chatham House rules, in which free discussion is encouraged by the promise of anonymity for speakers beyond the walls of the meeting, “pioneering innovators” among industry leaders take part for a discussion of crucial challenges and opportunities facing their businesses.
This year’s summit is hosted by the leading Australian telecoms and media company Telstra and will be opened, without anonymity, by Hugh Bradlow, its chief technology officer.
Mr Bradlow talks of a debate “highly valued for the quality, openness and honesty of its interaction with the executives, who rarely otherwise achieve this level of discussion with their peers”.
In his introductory remarks, he is set to launch proceedings with the question: “What services will make users notice the difference in broadband speeds and hence pay more for higher speed broadband?”. He is also expected to pay special attention to “cloud services”.
The latter phrase has a number of definitions, none as yet formalised but often referring to “utility computing”, or large numbers of computers connected to one another via the internet.
Mr Bradlow says he looks forward to welcoming the industry’s foremost leaders, “sharing our story and discussing the most pressing issues facing the industry at large”.
Away from the executive summit, speakers from the Middle East on the agenda for open sections of the forum include Ahmed Alsulati, the chief technology officer of the Qatar National Broadband Network, and Imran Malik, the director of professional services for du.
Mr Malik will offer his assessment of developments in software designed networking, arguing that the process will allow businesses to achieve enormous savings on capital and operational expenditure.
He is one of several professionals who have given pre-event interviews setting out the subject areas they will be dealing with in their presentations or their own impressions of the annual forum and what it can achieve.
Another, Jim Pine, the co-leader of Eorn, a Canadian project providing a high-speed, high-capacity broadband network run on behalf of 13 local government administrations in Ontario, says the event last year “exposed us to new and interesting technologies and to projects from around the globe”.
“We were excited to learn about new developments, the people who were championing them and share our experiences with them,” he says.
Eorn is among contenders “outstanding contribution to driving broadband penetration”, one of the awards to be made during the event. Mr Pine admits competition is tough – telecomms giants also vie for the award – but sees his team’s project “driven by local communities who have banded together to push high speed services to more than 1.1 million people in over 500,000 homes and businesses”, as a worthy candidate.
Visitors who attend the television and multiscreen “stream”, or session, of the forum will hear about the progress of over-the-top content (OTT), the delivery of audio and video content via the internet, from Jakob Sørensen, who describes himself as an “in-house revolutionary” at the Danish telecoms giant TDC.
Mr Sørensen, the company’s head of OTT and content and digital innovation, says he sees his role as “turning established truths upside down and challenging existing ways of doing everything”.
At present, he says, OTT represents only a modest threat to conventional content distribution, mostly affecting the home entertainment market.
“The demand for high-speed internet may even be a positive for the broadband business,” he adds. But in the longer run, he sees OTT having the potential to “disrupt existing value chains, gobble up serious viewing from traditional TV or drive massive traffic costs for broadband providers”.
But along with the challenge this entails, he says, the concept represents a major opportunity for existing providers to “leverage their strengths and exploit new platforms”.
Some 8,000 professionals from around the world are expected to attend the forum, with 300 expert speakers due to address a range of sessions and 200 international suppliers showing the “latest products and solutions taking the broadband industry by storm”.
The organisers promise an agenda giving prominence to “smart cities, e-learning and consumer-centric strategies” at a time when the industry is fighting to meet growing consumer demand, notably for faster broadband speeds.
“We’re really excited,” says Frankie Brewer, the conference manager,.
“Our keynote line-up is fantastic and promises to stimulate some really productive dialogue which will trickle down into the meetings and discussions to be had in the conference and exhibition … tapping into the hottest topics, cutting-edge technologies and market leading strategies in the industry.”