The annual Comdex IT trade show will begin in Las Vegas on Sunday with 27 percent fewer exhibitors than last year. Despite this, organisers hope visitor numbers will remain high with people keen to see new handheld and Tablet PC products.

The drop in exhibitor numbers, from 1,500 to 1,100, reflects the "challenging" conditions of the IT and high-tech markets over the past few years, said a spokesman for Comdex organiser Key3Media Group.

"Some companies aren't spending as much as they used to on marketing and others are just not among us any more. If you think how many companies which may have exhibited at Comdex in the past have gone since the internet bubble burst, you can see why," said the Comdex spokesman.

But Key3Media still expects to attract 125,000 visitors, which is a similar figure to last year. But experienced showgoers last year reported that the attendance figures were probably closer to 100,000.

People who make the trek to Vegas can expect a focus on gadgets and, in particular, handheld devices which are differentiating to cover as many market segments as the marketing men can dream up. The open source movement is also likely to be a strong presence at the show as developers try to push their message.

Roger Kay, director of client computing at IDC, said earlier this week that he expects Tablet PCs, wireless technology and PDAs to be the major theme of this year's Comdex, along with the synchronisation software needed to make them work together.

"It will be interesting to see the formal coming out of the Tablets. Several non-namebrand vendors are coming out of the woodwork," he said.

Wireless technology, too, will see some interesting developments. Kay said, "The development of a hot spot infrastructure (such as those in boutiques and coffee shops) will make mobile computing interesting".

Vendors in the wireless LAN segment will look beyond the IEEE 802.11b specification, demonstrating products that squeeze higher performance from that widely used technology as well as ones that combine 802.11b with the faster 802.11a standard. Some exhibitors will also be demonstrating or discussing implementations of the emerging 802.11g technology which will bring higher speed to networks that use 802.11b's 2.4GHz spectrum band.

PC Advisor's reviews editor, Will Head, will be out in Vegas all of next week pounding the show floor to bring us the latest news direct from the show floor.