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Guru Magazine
The Magazine
Database >> Wednesday June 27, 2007
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The mobile web takes off

The Thai presence at CommunicAsia this year was lively with the Sipa booth being one of the most colourful

Story by DON SAMBANDARAKSA, SINGAPORE


Tandberg Marketing Manager Deborah Wong shows how teleconferencing can be used to run a receptionist, either a human one (pictured) or a virtual one in a virtual world.
The underlying theme to CommunicAsia 2007 is all about the mobile web. Accessing the Internet and generating content via the handheld mobile phone, has finally taken off. Nokia has tried its best to avoid the term "mobile phone" with many of its executives speaking of "what the computer has become"; carriers addressed the challenge of upgrading the network infrastructure to support bandwidth beyond HSDPA and Internet-focussed network security companies suddenly found themselves catering for a few billion new customers.

The Thai presence at last week's CommunicAsia was quite lively and visible this year. The ICT Ministry's Software Industry Promotion Agency, Sipa, led a contingent of eight enterprise software companies and five animation companies to Singapore. Sipa vice-president Dr Niracharapa Tongdhamachat explained how CommunicAsia was a major crossroads in the industry.

"We are doing a lot of G2G (government to government) agreements with the IDA (Infocomm Development Authority) and MDA (Media Development Authority), and at the same time we are talking about digital content to companies from Canada, India, Australia, the UK and Vietnam," she explained.

Sipa's other mission at CommunicAsia was to promote the rescheduled Thailand Animation and Multimedia (TAM) and ICT Expo which will be held between November 15-20 this year.

Arguably the Sipa Booth was one of the most colourful with gentle pastel coloured fabrics where most others had hard, white partitions. It was also popular among visitors as where other booths gave out water or confectionery to lure in delegates, Sipa had bought along a traditional ice-lolly machine.

Shin Satellite had a very large booth showcasing the benefits of the IPStar broadband satellite and had bought along Canadian-Australian John Hawker of Sat-Ed to showcase his Room for Life project at a self-sustaining ICT minimart solution for rural areas.

Sipa VP Dr Niracharapa Tongdhamachat led a contingent of eight enterprise software companies and five animation companies to CommunicAsia 2007.

The Room for Life is a profitable, self-sustaining, ICT minimart franchise that offers services ranging from Internet access, photocopying to Video-on-Demand and e-Learning. By using IP broadcast (as opposed to point to point), the system can economically deliver content on learning maths or planting certain types of crops to be cached in the many centres where it can be accessed at lightning-fast speeds.

Today, there are two Rooms for Life in the poor northeastern province of Sakhon Nakhon with a further ten currently being set up in the troubled southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat .

Hawker admits that IP Star is far from perfect, but it does make the difference between self-sustainability and otherwise for his projects to bridge the digital divide.

"I just got back from Ghana where we are working with the Digital Partnership, the sister cities organisation of America, where they have some problems in getting the site up and running. They want self-sustainability but the biggest problem is the cost of satellite bandwidth. For 192Kbps down and 40Kbps up, it costs $800 a month. Here in Thailand, we get a megabit for around $80 a month. That $700 difference is pretty much the gap between self-sustainability and non-self sustainability. The difference means we will have to have larger centres in larger communities [than in Thailand]" he said.

Sat-Ed is also working with the World Bank, UNESCO and the UNDP in countries ranging from Sierra Leone to Vietnam, Malaysia and everyone has been supportive of the model, everyone that is, except the Thai Government. "My fear is that Vietnam will have 1,000 sites before we have 100 sites in Thailand. They don't understand us. They confuse us with an NGO, but we are a businesses with a strong business model to provide Internet connectivity, IPTV, video on demand, access to education and jobs to remote communities," he said.

Away from the Thai presence, CommunicAsia featured everything from satellites down to RFID-enabled health wristbands, those with embedded metals and magnets, only these could be used for passage in Korea's underground network as well as provide metaphysical body rebalancing.

The award for most witty name must go to SweDish, a Swedish (of course) company that does mobile satellite dishes.

Sanyo was present and arguably had one of the busiest stands away from the handset makers, giving out samples of its new self-discharge resistant Eneloop batteries and puppy shaped battery testers to those who succeeded in playing a game.

LG had their phones on display and quite a few Singaporeans were somewhat annoyed that for once, LG had chosen to launch their newest Shine phones in Bangkok a week before they were able to buy it. Of course, they had a 3G version while our similar looking unit was a 2.5G device. It was probably a shoot-out between LG and fellow Koreans Samsung as to who had the prettiest girls demonstrating products at their booth.

IP telephony was also a hot topic with both solutions and countermeasures being exhibited. Many solutions centred around the SIP protocol with a single identity that followed the subscriber around the office, to different devices, around the world. Also present were companies that specialised in detecting VoIP and GSM calls. They market to the carriers a service to make sample calls to double-check if carriers were adhering to their interconnection agreements and not making VoIP shortcuts.

Previously, the verdict was still out as to whether VoIP was a threat or an opportunity to the industry. This year, it seems as if the telcos have fully embraced data, and have reluctantly embraced VoIP as a driver for data. Most feel it is obvious that if the telcos do not do it, someone else will and leave the telcos in the unenviable position of being nothing more than a data pipe.

Singapore mobile operator StarHub launched one such VoIP service, Pfingo, but it was clear that it was just testing the waters as the converged communications service currently only supports a small handful of high-end handsets.

Of course, CommunicAsia is not just about the exhibition at Singapore Expo, but one could say that the entire island-nation was abuzz with activity as everyone scrambled to take advantage of the executives, dignitaries and media that descended on Singapore for the week. Nokia Connections was one not-quite CommunicAsia event, as was the launch of Yahoo Mobile oneSearch and Yahoo Go on the other side of town.

The embassies of Canada, China, France, Korea, the UK and hosts Singapore threw a huge networking party which saw most of the Thai delegation rub shoulders with the commercial counsellors and secretaries from across the region. Stewart Gorman,

British Commercial Secretary to the Embassy in Bangkok was present, busy making introductions, as were most of the staff from the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok, each country vying to get the attention of the somewhat outnumbered industry delegates.

90's pop superstar John "Nuvo" Rattanaveroj was also present and commented how his current company, tricast.co.th, was a tiny player when put next to the likes of BT, who now have diversified and do a lot of broadcasting and content distribution, similar to John's outfit, but brobably a few hundred orders of magnitude larger in size.

CommunicAsia 2007 had a bit of everything. From satellites to RFID wristbands to meetings between all the movers and shakers in industry, from polished enterprise-class services to start-ups with piles of circuitry that showed promise.

A lot of the attention was also focussed on how Singapore has been making great strides in the implementation of iN2015 (intelligent nation 2015), its 10-year infocomm master plan. This year, Singapore made headlines by offering free nationwide Wi-Fi access through the wireless@sg initiative, while more details of the technology choices it will adopt to make the island city-state a truly connected, intelligent nation, will emerge by the end of the year.


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