PITTSFIELD, Mass., April 8 -- Since its inception more than two decades ago, the Optical Fiber Communications conference (OFC) has reflected the condition of the optical telecommunications industry. From the days when fiber optic communications was more hope than reality (and OFC attendees were more dreamers than realists), until the late 1990s, when the whole world wanted in on the communications miracle, OFC attendance has grown from several hundred to 30,000-plus. According to the Optical Society of America (OSA), which sponsors the conference, attendance at OFC 2003 was a mid-range 15,000 -- a figure that would bring glee to the hearts of most photonics conference organizers. The lower figure was variously attributed to the economy, war-related travel restrictions and a general slackening of demand in land-based communications. Despite all that, OSA pointed out that participation from OFC's core research, exhibitor and attendee communities was quite strong: Research paper submissions reached an all-time high, with a 9 percent increase over last year to more than 1,300 papers (1,325 including post-deadlines). There were 622 paper presentations and nine tutorials, and 879 companies exhibited with only a few cancellations. While much could be made of the attendance figures, exhibitors told quite another story. As in the past, most were looking past current conditions to future opportunities. Perhaps echoing the stagnant condition of long haul markets, much emphasis was being placed on metro networks and the ever-elusive fiber to the home segment. In addition, new companies with new products were much in evidence. Technologies such as tunable filters, tunable lasers and uncooled pump lasers were much in evidence on the exhibition floor. Business cycles come and go, and technologies flourish and fade. Yet the underlying structure remains -- which is why OFC will probably remain a must-attend conference for years to come. The evidence is that it will adapt to leaner times, as it did to boom times. It may have to keep up with communications fashions, but it has been doing that for decades now.