I was privileged last week to spend my time in Las Vegas at WISPAPALOOZA, the annual showcase event of the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association. In all honesty, until about six months ago, I had never even heard of WISPA, let alone this particular event. And yet, in many ways, this was one of the most promising events Ethernity has attended in many years.
Traditionally, Ethernity has attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona each year because it is rightly known as the ultimate tradeshow in the telecom industry. However, MWC is, to some degree, a letdown for a company like Ethernity. While there are usually over 100,000 attendees in Barcelona each year, the massive scope of the event and the overwhelming predominance of the largest operators and the monolithic equipment providers makes it hard for a smaller company such as ours to gain any traction toward collecting legitimate leads or conducting any real business. In fact, Shavit Baruch, our VP of R&D and co-founder, has often said that we only attend MWC because it’s important to be seen and to be recognized as an active company in the industry.
During the COVID era, Ethernity has eschewed participating in virtual events, as we have found that the return on the investment is lacking. While video meetings are certainly ubiquitous in today’s pandemic-affected world, such meetings lack the personal touch that often leads to deeper relationships with our potential customers and then to contracts. Among the one or two virtual events in which we did participate, absolutely nothing came from them.
Worse yet, we recently attended an in-person event that failed to commit itself to either the live conference or to its simultaneous online version. Instead of a thriving showroom floor teeming with attendees, the event ended up less than 50% full, as many expected participants opted for the virtual sessions. While I can understand why the organizers would want to hedge their bets to protect themselves against the possibility of a cancelation because of COVID, this experience was eye-opening to us. Despite the audience being ideal for our 5G marketing efforts, we learned to avoid shows that are not fully invested in the face-to-face event.
Which leads me to WISPAPALOOZA, a trade show that did things exactly right. From the very outset, the organizers made clear that the event was going to be all about bringing people together in person. Of course, measures were taken to make everyone feel comfortable and safe, but at no time was there ever any consideration expressed that the event might be canceled, postponed, turned virtual, or limited in any way. And while attendance was reportedly down from its peak in 2019, there were still nearly 2,000 people at the event, which, while not even approaching MWC, is still a terrific showing.
Moreover, the organizers are craftily expert in ensuring that the exhibitors felt that their money was well-spent. By creating clear demarcations between the informational sessions and the showroom openings, there was a sense that those hours when booths and kiosks were required to be manned dominated the attention of the attendees, such that there was a focus on developing relationships, cultivating real leads, and dealmaking. Even when foot traffic seemed light, there were opportunities to interact with other exhibitors to promote our products and evangelize our solutions.
I have long said that if Ethernity can come away from each event with even one deal, even if that deal ends up being finalized many months later, the event has paid for itself. Regarding WISPAPALOOZA, we found that there was serious interest among WISPs and manufacturers in our newly patented L1 Wireless Bonding technology, especially when it is enveloped in our small form-factor UEP-20 appliance. There were even a couple comments about how this has been lacking from the industry for many years, and therefore the technology is a true breakthrough.
I cannot say with any certainty whether a deal will result from our interactions at WISPAPALOOZA 2021, but in this particular instance, I don’t know that it matters. We were introduced to a brand new marketplace, one in which we have just started to see demand for our products, and we felt right at home. That is the biggest takeaway for me from this event.
Whether it was the warm reception we received from various OEMs because they had heard our name and wanted to learn more about what we bring to the table, or whether it was distributors who sought us out because they recognize that we have something worthwhile to offer to the literally thousands of WISPs across North America (or even beyond), or whether it was the publishers of the daily newsletter who surprised us by including articles about us on two of the three days of the event, or whether it was the friendly neighbors on each side of our kiosk who gladly referred their own customers and partners to us in the spirit of camaraderie that just seemed to infect the entire occasion… we benefitted over and over again from the feeling that we had been welcomed into a family that props up its members for the greater good of the industry.
I am confident that only good things can come from such an atmosphere. We cannot wait to sign up for the next WISPA event, WISPAmerica in New Orleans in March. We are eager to follow up on the connections we made, to strengthen the new ties we have with OEMs and distributors alike, and to strategize on how we, too, can bring our particular flavor of excellence to the broader WISP community.