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Supercomm Buzz May Not Last For Everyone

CHICAGO -- If there's any slowdown in the telecom recovery in the near future, I can name the culprit: The long lines at the Starbucks counters here at the McCormick Place, the site of Supercomm 2004.

Apparently, enough people got their dose of java Tuesday to give this gathering a jolt it hasn't felt for years. But unlike the everybody-gets-rich booms of the past, this industry now feels like a giant version of a reality TV show, with an unclear amount of spots for survivors at the end.

The intensified competition, between traditional telcos, cable providers, wireless players and other newcomers like Voice over IP provider Vonage, has telecom in a frenetic rush for customers at all ends of the networked world. Hardware vendors here are trying hard to pitch their innovations to service providers as platforms that will save money while also delivering advanced services faster and easier; the service providers, meanwhile, are all talking about the future of communications, which will include much more than just basic data and voice.

In the middle of it all are regulators and politicians, who are trying either to get out of the way, or retain as much of their current status quo power as possible. What has attracted an increased number of attendees and exhibitors to this year's event is the smell of opportunity, created by disruptive technologies like VoIP and the advent of cheaper, faster, better services.

But just like Starbucks, the store is only open for so long. Better act fast, before the coffee gets cold.