Feature

ITW is back, almost, in Washington

ITW 2008 Washington Hilton.jpg

This is the 15th ITW, but how did it start? Alan Burkitt-Gray was there at the first, and tells the fascinating story

We’re back. This 15th International Telecoms Week (ITW) is back in Washington – well, just over the Maryland border from Washington DC, where we started back in 2008. We are this week only 15km (9½ miles, if you prefer) as the crow flies from the Washington Hilton, where we held the first event (pictured).

That was in the first week in June, chosen to coincide with an event just up the road at the Marriott Wardman Park. Global Telecoms Meeting (GTM) had been run by Intelsat as a user meeting since the days when satellites had become the workhorses of international communications.

But a number of leading operators around the world, including AT&T and Verizon in the US, and BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Sparkle in Europe, wanted a more fibre-led event. Their leaders approached the then owners of Capacity, already putting on global telecoms events, with the idea of offering a different sort of meeting.

With the support of Euromoney, the publishing and events group that was in the process of buying Capacity, the owners took on the challenge, and put on the first ITW, with only a few weeks’ notice. It booked the Washington Hilton for the week.

Renovation

Fortunately, the Hilton had delayed renovation work that had been due to take place that week, so the entire hotel was available. It was a hugely successful event, with hardly a sign that the Capacity team in London had put it together in just a few weeks.

All the big players were there: I still have a bright red Sparkle-branded tote bag from the opening party. There was even a big press conference, announcing the launch of i3forum.

Later on, the senior executives of the largest carriers, facilitated by Capacity, formed the Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF), which has made significant initiatives for the benefit of the industry, under the leadership of first Marc Halbfinger of PCCW Global and latterly Laurinda Pang of Lumen. The GLF announces Pang’s successor this week.

Nevertheless, booking a whole hotel for a week or more for a totally new event is a big commitment and, to be honest, as a public company Euromoney was a touch sceptical.

Was this a one-off exercise to get Intelsat to widen the scope of GTM, which had run successfully for 34 years, and maybe offer better prices in future? Would all the supporters go back to GTM from 2009 onwards?

So, a couple of members of the executive committee at Euromoney, the head of mergers and acquisitions and the person who ran telecoms publications, who had both committed to the Capacity deal, asked me to go to Washington to sniff around. Not as a journalist – I was editor of Euromoney’s Global Telecoms Business – but to have some quiet conversations.

Success

The answer I got from all I spoke to at that first ITW was that it was a resounding success. They most definitely would be at ITW the following year, and the years after that. They were enthusiastic about the event and about the service they had received from the organisers and the team.

Ros Irving, now head of all of Euromoney’s events, and Ross Webster, now the sales director for telecoms events at Capacity’s parent company, were two of those in at the start.

Capacity had laid on a free shuttle bus between GTM and ITW, and said anyone with a GTM pass could come free of change: a total of 3,407 joined us at ITW.

Many I spoke to at that first ITW had done the trip in reverse. GTM, they told me, was like a ghost town. By the end of that week Intelsat said it would close down GTM and would sponsor the following year’s ITW.

To emphasise the point, ITW 2009 was on GTM’s old territory, at the Marriott Wardman Park. ITW stayed in Washington until it moved to two adjacent hotels in Chicago in 2012, where attendance went up from 5,386 the first year to around 7,000.

There was a live event in 2019, in Atlanta, the home of the first-ever Capacity conference in the magazine’s earliest days. And then Covid-19 hit us.

After an entirely virtual event in 2020, there was a blended event, based here at National Harbor, Maryland, in 2021. Now, we are back in full strength.

And what about the old venues? The Marriott Wardman Park closed in 2020, and is now on the market, awaiting redevelopment. The Washington Hilton was refurbished just after ITW moved out and is fully functioning.

Most people will tell you the place is famous because that’s where John Hinkley tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, but it’s also where our business began: it’s where the first International Conference on Computer Communications took place 50 years ago in October. That’s where the world found out about Arpanet, the direct ancestor of the internet, with live networking via a dedicated phone line installed by AT&T.

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