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Zurich internet show banks on wireless boom

Wireless technology is becoming more common in many public places (iEX 2004) Thomas Entzeroth, Zurich

Switzerland’s biggest internet exhibition (iEX 2004) has opened in Zurich this week, giving the country’s web and IT businesses a chance to showcase their wares.

More than 340 companies are displaying a bewildering range of products, services and computer hardware across four halls of Zurich’s conference centre.

Exhibition organiser Giancarlo Palmisani said this year’s highlight is the emergence of so-called wireless technology, which enables laptop users to log onto the internet in hotels, airports and an increasing number of public venues such as swimming pools.

“Wireless is a boom and it’s a commodity now,” Palmisani told swissinfo.

“Years ago we spoke about wireless and now it’s done and it works.”

Currently in its eighth year, this year’s exhibition is much smaller than the much publicised events that were common during the late 1990s internet boom.

At its peak in 2001, more than 560 exhibitors travelled to Zurich.

Palmisani said attendance this year showed the industry was turning a corner.

“We have five per cent more exhibitors than last year,” he said. “And we think that the companies we have now, in 2004, will survive much longer than others [did in the past], because the consolidation is done. These are the companies of the future.”

Virtual bills

Exhibitors range from industry giants such as SAP, Swisscom and IBM to smaller firms selling specialised technology, such as internet security software.

And while iEX 2004 is largely aimed at IT professionals, there are some highlights for ordinary web users. Some of it even makes sense.

For instance, is a Swiss company that has built a niche for itself by providing an internet search engine that specialises in Swiss websites.

Rather than trying to compete with the colossus of search engines – Google – uses similar technology to give Swiss users a localised product.

There is also a major stand promoting the PayNet network, which promises to become a household name throughout Switzerland in coming months.

The network will allow a growing number of service companies to bill their customers via the web, saving paper, postage and handling costs.

“PayNet is a network for electronic invoicing,” Anton Meier from SAP told swissinfo.

“It means people in Switzerland will be able to get invoices not on paper, as they do today, but in an electronic form through their e-banking portal,” he said.

“Everyone that has an e-banking account with UBS and Credit Suisse and the 12 other banks that are connected will be able to receive electronic invoices.”

Not just for IT boffins

Although most of the exhibitors at this year’s event are involved in “pure” technology – which makes little sense to the lay person – others are banking on the popularity of leisure pursuits.

This correspondent was happily distracted by the “Boom Town” display, run by a Zurich company currently operating a pilot project, supported by the internet provider Sunrise.

“We have an internet café in Zurich, were we have 85 game PCs and people are invited to come and play,” said Thomas Lavater from Boom Town.

Lavater said the attraction of networked gaming centres was that it allowed interaction between gamers.

“It’s fun to see each other, and play each other. And besides, while most people only have two, three or four games at home, we’ve got 24 games installed on all our PCs.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber in Zurich

iEX is Switzerland’s biggest and most important internet industry trade fair.
iEX 2004 is in its 8th year.
Some 345 companies are exhibiting across four showrooms.
They range from software firms to web agencies, web marketeers, and IT security providers.
iEX 2004 runs from February 4-6.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR