Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Year of Living Online

For my final post of the year, I thought I’d highlight what, for me, was the most significant aspect: the move to working and playing online and taking advantage of many of the new web services out there. I’m not there yet, not by a long shot, but I finally got to experience the promise of broadband.

Key to that has been getting “decent” broadband. While places like Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea are spoilt for choice when it comes to high-speed access, Thailand is like a lot of Asia in that coverage is still sparse, including in the capital Bangkok. So it was with great relief that I welcomed TOT broadband into my part of town this year for the first time.

The first thing to change was that I started using Google and its associated services as they were intended to be used – online. I know there are still many people who prefer to download their Gmail into a traditional email program, but for me it’s a better overall experience doing everything online, from where I can see which other Gmail colleagues and friends are connected and even kickstart a quick chat session when I need some information in a hurry.

It also makes things easier when travelling. Before I had multiple email accounts that I would divert to Gmail, which I considered my roaming account. Now I have ditched the other email accounts and just use predominantly Gmail. If I think I might need a certain document while I’m away, I simply email it to myself knowing that I will be able to retrieve in whatever city I am. I’m sure Yahoo and Hotmail are just as adequate when it comes to this, it’s just I happened to get hooked on Gmail first (although I’m making it a goal to get acquainted with the other services in the new year).

The other thing I like about Google is the associated services and how they’re all starting to work well together. This year I finally put my domain name ( to use and parked it with Google Apps. Not only can I give family members their own email account, I’ve also started this blogging thang for the first time. I chose Blogger as my blogging platform mainly because it seemed to pick up more hits on Google’s search engine than other platforms. And thanks to Google Analytics, I can see how few people really visit the said blog.

Sticking to Google, its Reader is the best thing for reading RSS feeds by a long shot. I’d experimented with desktop RSS readers, but doing it online fits in better with the way I’m now working. And again, if I’m overseas I just fire it up and all of my regular feeds are there. I’ve also made limited use of its online word processing and spreadsheet offerings, though mainly to open up files for a quick look – if I want to keep them, I still tend to download them to the desktop.

I haven’t yet made use of any online storage services, but I’m sure that’s going to happen soon for backups.

Now lets get on to the fun stuff. Like a fair chunk of the Internet population, I signed up for Facebook this year. Great if you haven’t got enough procrastination aids at hand. And yes, I did get slightly addicted to begin with, although that addiction is starting to wane. Slightly. Probably the most useful aspect of it is keeping in touch with people in other states or countries. I’m crap at sending personal emails, so this one lets people see what I’m up to and send the occasional message. Not to mention challenging me to a game of Rock, Scissors and Paper, Pass the Soccer Ball and other mindless diversions.

I’m guessing that something bigger than Facebook will arrive in future, particularly a social network that lets you “own” your personal data, but in the meantime it’s probably the hottest social network going and I’ll still be there next year.

I’m also a fan of, the music service that allows you to select an artist or group that you like and it finds similar music choices and plays them. Another audio service I’m enjoying is podcasts, particular The Podcast Network, which has hundreds of podcasts and new material coming all the time.

And I couldn’t not mention the other major fun diversion I’ve found online this year: fantasy football. I’m a recent convert to the round ball game, but this web service, which allows you to manage a team made up of players from the English Premier League, is addictive. Especially if you’ve got friends doing it and there’s a small wager involved.

I’ve also been playing around on the mobile Internet as well, as many readers of this column will be aware. As I’ve noticed previously, I think you first need to be on the broadband Internet before you can make use of the various services coming to the mobile Internet, as most (not all) seem to be versions of what you’re doing online already – mobile Gmail, mobile Facebook and mobile Fantasy Football sprint to mind.

And as I’ve also mentioned in the past, I still think mobile phones need to be more user friendly than they currently are. This was really put in focus by yet another new toy I’ve been using – the Linksys iPhone with Skype that is reviewed here. The Skype VoIP phone simply worked. No messing with settings or giving other family members a quick lesson in usage. Maybe that’s the type of experience that other iPhone offers too, although I won’t know until it arrives in Asia. Maybe next year.

In the meantime, have a great New Year and see you back here sometime in 2008. – Geoff Long

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The iPhone comes to Thailand

There’s nothing quite like being an “early adopter”, and I guess getting one’s hands on an iPhone in Thailand qualifies for the title. I’ve even got the phone working on my telecom operator’s network, without the need to head down to the geek section of Maboonkrong (MBK) centre to unlock it or looking online for a hack to open it up. That’s because my iPhone is actually of the Linksys variety, the CIT400 Skype phone.

The “iPhone” might be forever associated with Apple now, but it’s Linksys and its parent company Cisco that originally owned (and still do) the registered name. If you cast your mind back to when the Apple iPhone first came out, you might remember there was a bit of public sparring over who had rights to the name. They resolved that dispute in February 2007, with the result that both companies are free to use the “iPhone” trademark on their products throughout the world, although other details of the agreement were undisclosed.

And the Linksys iPhone is every bit as innovative and stylish as its Apple namesake: It’s a dual-mode cordless (DECT) phone that makes Skype Internet calls over a broadband connection or regular calls through the phone network. And it will even make the Skype calls without the computer being turned on .

Setting it up is a breeze, at least it is once you get your home network prepared. The unit comes with a wireless “base station” that connects to your broadband connection via Ethernet. In my case, the ADSL modem used the only available Ethernet port on my computer, so I had to get an Ethernet hub. My hub came from a neighbour, who retrieved one from his electronics “spares” box. It didn’t come with a cable, so I rustled one up out of my own junk gear collection, which is how I came to find out that not all “Cat 5” cables are the same. Turns out that cables that connect two computers together look exactly like those that connect a hub to a computer – only they won’t work. So finally the neighbour also supplied a spare Ethernet cable and I plugged the hub in and it “just worked.”

As an aside though, this is one issue with anything to do with home networking – there’s a dog’s breakfast of standards and formats out there. Even just getting a power board that will accept the different electrical plugs can be a challenge, so as we move into the era of home networking there needs to be a lot more work on getting standard equipment. At a recent Cisco press event in Singapore, Nick Fielibert, the chief technical officer of Scientific Atlanta (now a Cisco company), summed the situation up like this. “The best you can say is that devices in the home don’t connect well. Everyone talks about [the connected home] but I don’t think anyone’s seen it yet. It’s a bit like the Lochness Monster or the Holy Grail.”

Needless to say, Cisco and just about every other networking vendor on the planet will be working to rectify this, with Fielibert suggesting that there should be some progress in the next 18 months or so.

So assuming you have an Ethernet port to plug into, you simply plug the base station into it (cable supplied). Then there’s a cradle for the phone that plugs into the mains power outlet. The phone itself is powered by two AAA batteries, which are again supplied. Turn the phone on and it will automatically open to the Skype sign-in page. If you’ve already got a Skype account, you enter your user name and password and you’re ready to go – all of your regular contacts will show up on the phone.

Skype has had some bad press of late, particularly when it informed some users that they would have to change their Skype In numbers. However, it’s still by far the easiest VoIP service to set up – the problem with open SIP standards, as my geek neighbour pointed out, is that they’re still not easy to set up for the average person, or even for technically-capable users for that matter.

A recent study by German traffic management vendor ipoque, which analysed three petabytes of anonymous data representing around 1 million users, concluded that Skype represents 95 percent of all VoIP traffic. The reason? Because it’s easy to use and gets around restrictive network environments such as corporate firewalls and NAT boxes. “While standards-based VoIP systems using SIP, H.323 and IAX require manual configuration to get around the resulting limitations, Skype has many built-in mechanisms to automatically deal with such network conditions and to offer an as seamless as possible operation in most environments,” the report noted.

That ease of use is clearly evident when using the Linksys iPhone. As I said, I simply plugged it in and it worked. The phone itself resembles a slightly-larger than usual mobile phone. It comes with a colour screen and the menu functions are all well-thought out. Click the “Contact” menu in the lower left and it will bring up all your regular Skype contacts. You can also set your status the same as you do on the computer, so if you want to show that you’re unavailable, you just select that option from the menu.

To make a call, you select the relevant contact and press the green call button on the phone. Everything sounds and acts like a regular call, including a dial-tone. I’ve tested it both internationally and locally, to other Skype connections and to regular phones, and the call quality has been mostly fantastic – better than my mobile connection a lot of the time. And as mentioned, it can also work as a regular phone through the fixed network, which is useful if there are other people in the household or business that are not on Skype.

Another thing to mention is that it’s actually a DECT phone rather than a Wi-Fi phone. DECT, as I’ve come to appreciate, provides better call quality than through Wi-Fi and also better coverage. I was shocked to see the wife using the phone from about 35 metres away through two walls and a ceiling, but reception was fine.

The other thing I really like about it is that it untethers you from the computer when using Skype. I’ve been a Skype user for years but haven’t really made use of it because I just like to pick up a phone and make a call. With this unit, I can do that. It has also encouraged me to get all of my regular contacts on Skype – not just signed up but actively logged in.

In fact, everybody that I’ve shown this device to wants one. That’s great for me, because it means more of the people I regularly call will also be logged into Skype and more accessible. For those that are not, I can use Skype Out or just go through the regular phone service.

Linksys is not the only one with this type of device. There are apparently similar phones from the likes of Philips, Siemens, Netgear and GE. That said, a friend bought one from one of the aforementioned vendors and still hasn’t got it working. Could be the gear, could also be the friend. What I do know is that Linksys has a good reputation for gear that’s easy to set up and use.

So if you’re after a neat gadget for someone this Christmas/New Year, look out for the Linksys CIT400 iPhone. – Geoff Long

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Do we want our IPTV?

Video is clearly the “in” thing on the Internet, with new peer-to-peer television offerings, user-generated video services, Internet video channels and telco interest in IPTV. So it was a shock to see such a low turnout at last week’s IPTV World Forum Asia in Singapore. You’d think every telco in the region would have sent out a delegation to find out what the latest thinking is and how the pioneers are doing. Or perhaps it’s in everyone’s too hard, too costly and too much government meddling basket?

Let’s face it, Asia hasn’t realised its promise when it comes to IPTV, particularly given the much touted high-density, high-bandwidth economies like Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. The region was at the forefront thanks largely to PCCW’s Now offering, which first started more than four years ago, but since then there’s largely been a vacuum. PCCW/Now still accounts for the majority of IPTV subscribers in Asia with its 850,000 signups, and it was only a few months ago that it was joined by a serious telco IPTV offering – Singtel’s Mio.

In the meantime, it seems there’s now more IPTV activity in Europe and the US, particularly in conjunction with some of the new fibre rollouts. The Asian numbers haven’t been helped by some world-class dithering by regulators, which continue with 20th Century models to regulate Internet and new media. South Korea, for example, should be an IPTV showcase by now if it wasn’t for the insistence by regulators that they can’t broadcast in real-time and other hobbling policies. Most of the other regulators around the region seem not to understand the new digital media landscape either.

Nevertheless, there were still some interesting lessons to be had from last week’s IPTV event, first and foremost that it will remain a very expensive business to enter into and one that will have a very long return on investment. Speakers from PCCW/Now and Singtel/Mio both stressed that they viewed the business as a pay TV service – meaning it required all of the various agreements with content producers, advertising and a reliable platform rather than an Internet “best effort” platform.

In the case of PCCW, it’s yet to turn a profit after four years and has recently ploughed US$200 million into getting the broadcast rights for English Premier League football. Singtel has also been sourcing original content and is not expecting to turn a profit on its IPTV service for 10 years. Low Ka Hoe, the director of Mio TV and content, also pointed out that nothing less than a 20Mbps connection (or ADSL2+) was good enough for delivering the service given that they wanted it to be seen as reliable as regular satellite/cable TV.

For all the talk of “video 2.0” and user-generated video content, most of the big telcos seem to think they need to be a pay TV operator first, then add the social networking/user-generated content frills later. This could well be the case because, let’s face it, everybody across the whole media landscape seems to be still playing a guessing game when it comes what consumers want and are willing to pay for. The real convergence hasn’t happened yet – consumers still go to a TV set to get regular shows and head to the Internet/PC to get niche content. Whether the two come together remains to be seen.

Content producers are also still guessing. Yew Ming Lau, VP of business development for Turner Broadcasting Asia Pacific, said Turner and other original content producers were still working out how to tap into the “long tail” of niche content by experimenting with various web channels and other delivery models. Telcos would be happy to hear that he believes they are better placed to deliver the niche stuff in conjunction with the regular programming, but then again this could be just because both the telco and the content producer see this as the best way to monetise user-generated and other new content forms.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room that few people want to draw attention to – the web-based and peer-to-peer players like Joost, Babelgum and the newly-announced Knocka TV (from the founders of ICQ). Some might even call it the over-the-top elephant that may come crashing through to spoil the party. One surprising voice to acknowledge it at last week’s IPTV gathering was Hou Zi Qiang, an independent director of China Netcom who stressed he was presenting his personal views rather than those of the carriers.

According to Qiang, “the basic business model of new media is the Internet business model” and “video should be on the Internet, not on the private network of an operator.” In other words, IPTV is ripe for disintermediation like every other media. And perhaps that explains the low turnout at last week’s IPTV World Forum Asia last week – everyone’s tuning into what’s happening on the Internet before they commit to expensive IPTV rollouts. – Geoff Long

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Internet is collapsing: again

It’s been a while since we’ve had a really good “the Internet will collapse scare”. Ever since Bob Metcalfe – Ethernet co-inventor, 3Com founder and pundit – suggested in 1996 that the Internet would collapse that year, it’s been touted as a possibility. Of course the Internet didn’t collapse and Metcalfe went on to eat his InfoWorld column that predicted it in front of an audience at that year’s World Wide Web conference.

It didn’t stop him, and others, from making follow-up predictions, however. The issue came up again in 2004 at a conference to discuss “Preventing the Internet Meltdown”, where organiser Lauren Weinstein noted that a “continuing and rapidly escalating series of alarming events suggest that immediate cooperative, specific planning is necessary if we are to have any chance of avoiding the meltdown.”

It seems we avoided that meltdown too, but now the alarm bells have been set off again, this time people warning that the surge in video use through sites such as YouTube is going to overwhelm the Internet. The most recent “collapse” warning came via a report from Nemertes Research and warns that in as little as two years we “potentially face Internet gridlock that could wreak havoc on Internet services.”

The Nemertes report is called “The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web,” and warns that consumer and corporate Internet usage could outstrip network capacity worldwide in a little more than two years. And it also advises that the financial investment required to “bridge the gap” between demand and capacity globally is around $137 billion, primarily in broadband access.

The result of demand outstripping supply, according to Nemertes, is that users could increasingly encounter Internet “brownouts” or interruptions to the applications they’ve become accustomed to using on the Internet. “For example, it may take more than one attempt to confirm an online purchase or it may take longer to download the latest video from YouTube,” the research firm said. “Overall, the impact of this inadequate infrastructure will be primarily to slow down the pace of innovation. The next Amazon, Google or YouTube might not arise -- not from a lack of user demand, but because of insufficient infrastructure preventing applications and companies from emerging.”

All pretty scary stuff, but then again these type of reports seem to be written for their shock value. Perhaps even more scary is that the research was partly funded by a group going by the name of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), which a net neutrality coalition called “Save the Internet” has helpfully outed. According to Save the Internet, the IIA is a lobby group for the big telcos and funded by AT&T. Nemertes counter-claims that its research is “independent”, but needless to say the big telcos are going to latch on to it as a way influence the regulators and protect their patch.

Here’s what Save the Internet had to say: “These types of studies often boil down to pure posturing and polemic against Net Neutrality, bought and paid for by AT&T. When researchers stumble across inconvenient points, such as the current boom in infrastructure investment, they dismiss them in favour of doomsday scenarios and call for an end to the one rule that allows online users to innovate without permission.”

Another thing to keep in mind, and which others have picked up on, is that innovation tends to happen where there is scarce bandwidth -- developers have to innovate to make the best of what is available. So saying that the next Google might not arise because of inadequate infrastructure is probably pushing things. Then again, it's just another in a long line of (false) warnings that the Internet is in danger of collapsing. -- Geoff Long

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A broadband tale of two countries

What a remarkable contrast between the two election campaigns that have recently been on-going in Australia and Thailand. The elections might be just one-month apart (Australia 24 Nov, Thailand 23 December), but in terms of ICT issues and the realisation that broadband infrastructure is a critical economic and social policy matter, they’re generations apart.

Sometimes I think the media and parts of the industry in Australia don’t appreciate that the country has a healthy, competitive ICT environment, both in terms of the infrastructure in place and the regulatory framework surrounding it. Sure, it could be a lot better, but then again you’re never going to satisfy everyone.

And sometimes I think the media and parts of the industry in Thailand don’t appreciate that the country is falling behind when it comes to infrastructure and a regulatory framework that promotes investment. Not just falling behind the likes of Australia, but neighbours such as Malaysia and perhaps even Vietnam. Sure, it could be worse, but not much.

This week in Australia is probably going to see a major announcement on broadband, given that it was a central plank of the new Labor government’s election campaign. But to be fair, you have to give credit to both parties for realising the importance of broadband and putting it on the political agenda. And the result of that is, no matter which party was elected, there was always going to be a political push to improve the country’s broadband infrastructure. At least something will happen.

In Thailand, by contrast, the only safe bet is that nothing will happen. And the telecom sector has pretty well been in limbo for the past decade. Ask most people who the current ICT minister is and you’ll likely get a shrug of the shoulders, although they’ll probably remember Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, who resigned as ICT Minister last month. However, they won’t remember him for his forward-thinking ICT policies, but rather his somewhat bizarre behaviour and occasional disjointed thoughts on improving ICT.

In his brief reign as ICT Minister, he managed to ban YouTube, tell foreign reporters that state-run telcos would be fully-privatised while at the same time telling Thai reporters that they would never be privatised, and proposed handing over all telecom networks to be managed by the listless Telephone Organisation of Thailand.

At one of his few meetings with the international media, at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok, he managed to talk more about his sexual history than telecoms policy. He’s also well known for a collection of more than 300 guns, carrying around his own personal euthanasia machine (which he invented), and being the inventor of the Bangkok taxi meter. Yet at least in terms of education, he had something in common with his Australian counterparts – he boasts a PhD in Solid State Electronics from the University of New South Wales in 1975.

It would be wrong to blame Sitthichai, however, given that he was drafted into the position by the military junta – whoever held the reigns until the next government was always going to keep things in a holding pattern. However, that doesn’t excuse the previous years of inaction. In the past five years there have been numerous stories of foreign businesses relocating to other parts of Asia because of poor and costly telecoms infrastructure in Thailand. Now the local business people are getting outspoken as well.

As noted in CommsDay last week, a panel of some of the top Internet and telecom experts slammed the country's regulatory environment at a roundtable at the ICT Expo, saying it has left the nation ill-prepared for the convergence of telecom, broadcasting and media. Typical was the comment by Vilaiwan Vanadurongvan, an advisor to the Channel 7 TV station, criticising the regulatory vacuum. “Is a merged or separate watchdog better? We as the private sector do not care anymore. Anything is better than 10 years of inaction. Just go ahead and do something. Anything is better than the status quo we have today,” she stated.

If the contrast with Australia is unfair, given the differences in economic size of the two countries, Thailand needs only to look across the border in Malaysia to see what can be done with a strong government push. Initiatives such as the MSC and its supporting infrastructure, the licensing policy for both WiMax and 3G services and the plans for a national fibre rollout are way ahead of anything happening in Thailand.

Singapore and Hong Kong are probably unfair comparisons, given their sizes, but still it’s the willingness of the government and regulatory authorities to put in place policies that stimulate ICT spending that are the key issue. Hong Kong and Singapore have quite different approaches – with Hong Kong much more laissez faire – but both have been instrumental in creating an environment conducive to business.

There is still time for one of the political parties in Thailand to take up the ICT policy challenge and articulate a clear and enlightened framework to bring the country in line with others in the regions. If the next government fails to take action, however, Thailand will continue to be a telecom backwater and lose business to its neighbours. – Geoff Long

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Great Mobile Internet Myth

I’d hate to think how many times I’ve seen presentations at trade shows and vendor events where they trot out figures of how many computers there are in the developing world compared to mobile phones and then without missing a beat proclaim that the mobile will be the access device for these markets to get on the Net. Sure, there are more mobile phones in use than PCs in “emerging” markets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will be jumping online with them. It’s only now that I’m using the mobile Internet that I’ve realised this.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having another dig at the mobile Internet. In fact, I’m currently enjoying my experience of finding out what it’s capable of (and not capable of). As a tech journo and reasonably early adopter, it’s my role to check out these things – and having access to the latest phones for testing purposes certainly helps. Your average Chinese, Indian or Thai taxi driver, labourer or office worker is not likely to be in the same situation.

For a start, the majority of phones sold in emerging markets are low-end devices that are not even capable of getting on the Internet. Even in the developed world, the number of people toting so-called smartphones is still slim, perhaps 10 percent of the market, tops. If they did want one of the new-fangled smartphones, they’re likely going to be handing over the equivalent of a few months wages to get it. Here in Bangkok, for example, the average smartphone goes for around 20-25,000 baht (upwards of US$650). Yet a decent desktop PC can be had for half that amount.

Then there’s the mobile data fees themselves. Thailand again is fairly reasonable in comparison to some countries, with an unlimited plan going for around US$30. But for half that you can have a fixed broadband connection that is way faster. It’s also a lot more reliable – let’s face it if everyone suddenly jumps online, a typical mobile cell (3G or 2.5G) is going to be close to unusable.

But the cost of the devices, the cost of mobile data service and issues such as speed and reliability are not the only things stopping the mobile from being the dominant access means in the developing world (although together they represent a pretty decent stumbling block). The other thing that I’ve come to realise is that most of the good Internet services for the mobile nearly all require you to be a regular Internet user in the first place.

Let’s take the services I’ve been using as an example. One of the most useful has been Gmail on the mobile. Google has created a small app that you can download to the mobile and it works great – but of course you have to have an existing Gmail account first (you could, theoretically, sign up on the mobile, but it would be painful). Another one I’ve noticed a lot of people using is Facebook for the mobile. Again, it complements your regular, desktop Facebook account rather than being purely for the mobile. There are plenty of similar examples, such as my Fantasy Premier League team, which I can manage via the mobile but which we won’t go into given that I’m losing. The point is you only use it on the mobile when you’re signed up on the desktop first.

Even some of the services designed specifically for the mobile, such as Nokia’s Widsets (widgets for the mobile) and Mosh (content sharing) require you to sign up via computer and are best configured and managed from the desktop. Sure, they both have some great mobile-only apps, but the people using it are still going to be heavy users of the desktop Internet. And I think this holds for most things to do with the mobile Internet – the way I see it, it will complement the fixed Internet rather than people using it exclusively.

So the next time someone tells you that mobile devices outnumber PCs in the developing world, don’t let them hoodwink you into thinking they’ll be using them to get on the Internet. At least not until they’re already using the fixed Internet first. – Geoff Long

Monday, November 19, 2007

UPDATE: ITU not planning a 'boring' show for Bangkok

A while back I was critical of last year's ITU Telecom event in Hong Kong (and a lot of trade shows generally), provocatively labelling them as "boring". Well, in the ITU's defence, they've decided to do something about it (and admit they were getting a bit stale). Needless to say, one good strategy is to confront your critics and give them the lowdown on your plans for improvement. That resulted in me meeting ITU Telecom executive manager Fernando Lagrana in the Bangkok airport Novotel, on a four-hour stopover, for an update on their "exciting" plans for ITU Telecom Asia in Thailand next year. Here's the lowdown as first published in Commsday last week.

The ITU Telecom Asia event scheduled for Bangkok next year could get a significant boost with the addition of a high-level government-industry summit similar to the recent Connect Africa meeting being considered, ITU Telecom executive manager Fernando Lagrana has revealed exclusively to CommsDay.

A “Connect Asia” Summit would likely be held back-to-back with ITU Telecom Asia and a decision will be made before the end of the year and even as early as this week, he said. ITU deputy secretary-general Zhao Houlin is in Bangkok on Friday for the opening of the annual Bangkok International ICT Expo.

Lagrana pointed to the success of Connect Africa, held at the end of last month in Kigali, Rwanda, where US$55 billion was committed by government and businesses over five years to improve the broadband infrastructure across Africa. He said similar expectations could be held for a Connect Asia summit.

The idea of holding a high-level summit to coincide with ITU Telecom Asia was one of a number of ideas for revamping the event when it is held in Bangkok in September 2008. Other changes being proposed will include more interactive forum sessions that are less geared towards major sponsors, and the addition of a “theme” to the programme – with possibilities including emergency telecommunications, social responsibility and cyber security – in addition to the more “generalist” exhibition.

Lagrana said that more open and informal forum sessions, using a professional moderator from the BBC, were first trialled last month at Connect Africa with great success. Of the seven sessions held, only one used a traditional format of a speaker delivering a speech from a podium, and according to Lagrana the open sessions were better received.

As a result, the ITU will adopt the more interactive formats for future events starting with ITU Telecom Africa to be held in Cairo next May. The forum committee will also reject presentations that are deemed too commercial. However, he said in addition to the regular forum there will be a parallel sponsored section where vendors could deliver their commercial messages.

The format changes stem from a new organising team, with 80 percent of the forum committee changed along with changes at the management level since last year’s ITU Telecom World in Hong Kong.

The forum committee has also been studying other successful event formats and is co-operating with groups including the World Economic Forum that will lead to a forum that is “more substance and less status”, according to Lagrana. Other groups are also being invited to set up sessions that extend the reach into other “communities” involved in the industry.

Patrapee Chinachoti, president of the Trade Exhibition Association of Thailand and one of the key people in bringing ITU Telecom Asia to Bangkok, told CommsDay that the event would also utilise Thailand’s position as a key hub in Indochina to bring in delegations from neighbouring countries.

“From the Thai side we want to show that we are ready to organise an international show and attract more regional events to the country,” he said, adding that a government-level delegation will most likely visit neighbours such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and invite them to highlight their future infrastructure plans to an international audience. – Geoff Long

Mobile Internet doesn't need Google to succeed

Wow, November 19 and I still haven't posted for the month! Here's the first of a few to come, this one my take on Google's Android open source for mobiles project . . .

We’re entering an interesting time for the mobile Internet sector and I think there are enough encouraging announcements happening that will see it develop into something much more useable in 2008.

As I suggested a few months back, perhaps one of the lasting legacies of Apple’s iPhone is that it will push other players in the market to keep up with its innovation. We’re already seeing that – whether it’s a consequence of Apple or not – with much improved technology coming from all of the major players, whether its Windows Mobile, the Nokia/Symbian camp, RIM and its Blackberry, Apple itself and of course one of the most keenly-waited announcements of all – Google and its open mobile alliance.

Just a small sampling of the announcements that have been encouraging over the last month include Microsoft and Nokia getting together to pre-load Windows Live services on mobiles (not an exclusive deal, by the way), Nokia finally announcing its roadmap for touch-screen phones and a touch-screen user interface built into its Series 60 software, RIM adding new touches such as Facebook support for the Blackberry, and Apple relenting and allowing third-party apps for the iPhone (although only those that it pre-approves).

But the biggest announcement was no doubt from Google last week with its “Android” and the Open Handset Alliance, which features an impressive line-up of founding members. Rather than list who they are, it’s more instructive to list who’s not there: Apple, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM and Sony Ericsson. All powerful players, but then again the likes of China Mobile, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung, T-mobile and Telecom Italia among the 34 founders of the Open Handset Alliance are not bad allies either (not to mention the mighty Google itself).

According to the Google announcement, the Android platform is (or will be) a fully integrated mobile “software stack” that consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and applications, with the first phones based on Android to be available in the second half of 2008.

It said the platform will be made available “under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products.” As its first move, the alliance will this week release an early access software development kit to provide developers with the tools necessary to create applications.

It certainly sounds like the real deal, but there are some things worth pointing out. For one thing, late 2008 is still a long way out when we’re talking technology and a lot of new innovations from the rest of the mobile industry will have happened by then. And as a number of people have mentioned that I’ve spoken to recently, bringing out a mobile operating system is no easy feat. Just think how long it took Microsoft to get Windows Mobile relatively stable and established, and even Nokia with Symbian and Series 60 has had more than a few hiccups along the way.

Open source mobile phones are not new, either. Efforts to get Linux on phones have been in the works for a few years now, but there’s nothing serious that has eventuated other than a low-level operating system that is really not that compelling. And those efforts and alliances involving the likes of Motorola still exist.

Another significant mobile device operating system, which is also open and with a massive developer community, is the PalmOS. There are literally thousands of mobile applications for the PalmOS yet it continues to struggle.

Given that it will not appear before the second half of next year, Android is not likely to have much effect in 2008 at all. But in the meantime I expect that the mobile Internet will become a lot more user-friendly. For example, one of the new services I’m trying out now, the Widset platform for bringing widgets, or small applications, to a mobile phone really does improve the user experience when it comes to accessing Internet on the phone. So too do things such as the mobile version of Gmail, which I’ve now downloaded on my mobile.

So perhaps the underlying operating system is not that much of an issue anyway – the real groundbreaking developments are those that are happening on the Internet. And I expect that they will have moved ahead rapidly by the time Android makes its debut. – Geoff Long

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why ITU's backing is bad for WiMax

My most recent column for CommsDay/BroadBand Communities.

At first I didn't really know what to make of the announcement that the ITU has recognised 802.16e, or WiMax, as an official 3G standard. A lot of media and industry groups like the WiMax Forum seem to consider it a game-changing decision. I've got a feeling it will actually change nothing. In fact, it could be detrimental to its progress.

With all the lobbying going on behind the scenes, it wasn't an altogether unexpected decision either. One person I asked about it was Ovum analyst Nathan Burley, who also was doubtful the ITU standardisation will have much effect at all. Even the GSM Association has come out all conciliatory over the announcement, saying they were "relaxed" about it. Well, given the relative market shares of 3G/HSPA versus WiMax, they probably can afford to be relaxed.

Ron Resnick, president of the WiMAX Forum, noted that "this is the first time that a new air interface has been added to the IMT-2000 set of standards since the original technologies were selected nearly a decade ago" and suggested that operators would be more willing to adopt it now that it comes with the ITU's stamp of approval.

As Resnick says, 3G has been around for almost a decade -- yet there are still many countries around the world that haven't gotten around to adopting 3G. So somehow I don't think the world's telecom regulators are suddenly going to swing into action and start bringing in WiMax now that the ITU says it's okay. And it certainly didn't stop the likes of Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan from bringing in WiMax licencing frameworks despite not having the ITU's okay.

I'd say the fact that the IEEE itself has been slow to finalise its own 802.16e standard and initiate interoperability has put off more governments than the fact that the ITU approval was missing.

Another outcome of the ITU decision is that it ends the debate once and for all on whether WiMax is a 3G, 3.5G or 4G technology. Settled: it's officially a 3G technology, although I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing for the WiMax camp either.

It means that WiMax is now legitimately a competitor to W-CDMA/HSPA and CDMA 2000 EV/DO, and in that regard it has a lot of catching up to do. A decade's worth, in fact. Given the huge momentum around HSPA in particular, the traditional 3G proponents must be relishing the coming market battle.

In another few weeks, the ITU's World Radiocommunications Conference will have discussed the various 4G proposals and likely we will have a clearer view of what the timetable for the LTE and UWB proposed 4G standards will be. As a result, any operators planning to move to a higher bandwidth wireless technology are likely going to want to look at a 4G technology rather than the decade's old IMT 2000 3G. And that's going to push WiMax even further on the outer.

So while at first glance the ITU news would seem good for WiMax, personally I think it can be viewed as another piece of bad news. --Geoff Long

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Search site for breaking news

I came across a great new search site by the makers of Fon -- they're the guys that are bringing the social networking concept to Wi-Fi, where users share their access points. It's called Unfolding News and as the name suggests it's for keeping track of breaking news stories. It's still in beta but from the few times I tried it seems stable and quite useful.

Interestingly, Fon founder Martin Vasavsky said he came on the idea for the service because the likes of Google and Technorati weren't good enough for his "vanity searches". Apparently he likes to keep track of stories that mention him. Well, if you happen to read this one Martin, perhaps you can add me to your blog roll ;-) And it will also mean your search service is working!

That's also him on the cover of CNBC magazine above.

Monday, October 22, 2007

RSS hijacking??? . . .

. . . Or trouble at Ovum??

I'm a huge fan of Google Reader (and before that other RSS readers, but Google the first for purely online reading). As a result, I rarely go to web sites or blogs directly, I just skim read the headlines in Google Reader and then delve further if something takes my fancy. I also have a huge list of RSS feeds that I subscribe to.

I was adding Ovum to my RSS list today when a strange thing happened. When I added the address (, Google Reader responded by telling me I'd subscribed to a feed called ARmadgeddon. WTF, I thought, so I tried again. Same response. End result is if you subscribe to Ovum's RSS feed you will end up reading ARmadgeddon.

The really interesting thing is that it's not a bad result -- ending up at ARmadgeddon. According to its own blurb, it "has been set up by IT Analyst Relations professionals to relate tales of a symbiotic community: real stories, analyst gaffes and (un)predictions, analinguo, rumours, gossips and more."

Or from my short browsing session, it seems to be an insider's take on the telecom and IT analyst community, complete with gossip, movements, rumours, speculation and everything else that makes for a good read.

While I'm happy to keep it in my feed list, I'm still wondering how Ovum's RSS link manages to take you to ARmadgeddon. A disgruntled Ovum staffer perhaps? Try it out for yourself -- go to and near the top you'll see a link "Latest comments available via RSS". Put that in your reader and see where it takes you (just clicking on the link doesn't work, you have to put it in Google Reader or something similar). And do leave a comment if you get the same result or have any insights . . .

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

WiMax on the ropes?

Here's a commentary piece I wrote for CommsDay Asean last week, shortly after Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee resigned. Over the past 12 months I've heard so many WiMax vendors suggest the fact that Sprint is rolling out a massive 802.16e network meant that the economies of scale for the technology were guaranteed. But what if Sprint changes its plans?
The usual reminder: You can sign up for a free trial subscription to Commsday at

When Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee abruptly resigned earlier this week, he probably expected the speculation on his future and the future of the company that he had helmed for the past four years. It's unknown, however, if he expected the questions regarding the very future of the WiMax technology he has helped hype for the past 12 months.

Yet that is the biggest story to arise since Forsee left the office on Monday afternoon: whether there is any future in WiMax without a tier one operator to champion it. Not that Sprint has necessarily dumped WiMax, but most commentators and analysts are now seriously questioning whether the wireless operator will proceed down the WiMax route.

At best, most expect Sprint to slowdown its WiMax activity, which could equally be detrimental to the future of the technology, as Bear Stearns equity research analyst Philip Cusick pointed out in a note to investors. "We believe that Sprint is likely to de-emphasise the WiMax business, which could result in a slower rollout for WiMax in the U.S., lower economies of scale for Clearwire and shrink the ecosystem necessary to attract consumer electronics companies to WiMax," Cusick wrote.

That's quite a damning summation, but it's not the only negative sentiment nor the worst. Patrick Comack, a senior equity analyst with Zachary Investment Research, was quoted by the Washington Post as suggesting the company was negligent in going with WiMax in the first place. "The fact that they bought a $5 billion network without testing it was a violation of fiduciary duty. It's like buying a $5 billion car without test-driving it first," he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed to CommsDay this week by Gartner VP of technology and service provider research Martin Gutberlet, who pointed out that the WiMax technology that Sprint is deploying, 802.16e, commonly known as mobile WiMax, had not even started compliance testing yet. And it is widely known that the network had many technical setbacks.

Aside from a few niche fixed WiMax deployments in emerging markets, Gutberlet all but wrote off WiMax's chances against 3G and 4G technologies such as HSPA and LTE. He said that a new version of WiMax, 802.16m, had more potential but only if it wasn't hobbled by being made backwards-compatible. As this was unlikely to occur, he suggested that WiMax will never make it as a mass market technology.

Even the fact that the likes of Intel was pouring money into WiMax and supposedly making it standard in every new notebook in 2008 did not convince him that WiMax would become mainstream. As Gutberlet noted, Intel has got it wrong before. And it could also be that Sprint has got it wrong, too.

Given that the WiMax camp has put so much emphasis on Sprint rolling out the technology, it's fair to say that if they do indeed scale back their WiMax plans, the technology's future doesn't look anywhere near as bright as it did in the Gary Forsee era. -- Geoff Long

Monday, October 15, 2007

Greenpeace disses the iPhone

Of all the hundreds of thousands of articles on the iPhone, here's one that managed to standout courtesy of Silicon Alley Insider. Apparently Greenpeace did some scientific tests that found the iphone has some hazardous substances that other phone makers have managed to eliminate. And this despite the claims by Steve Jobs that Apple would be ahead of its phone competitors on green issues. Here's what they said:

International — Scientific tests, arranged by Greenpeace, reveal that Apple's iPhone contains hazardous chemicals. The tests uncovered two types of hazardous substances, some of which have already been eliminated by other mobile phone makers.

In May, due to our successful Green my Apple campaign Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple, claimed: "Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors" on environmental issues.

We watched closely when the iPhone was launched in June for any mention of the green features of the phone from Apple. There was none.

So we bought a new iPhone in June and sent it our Research Laboratories in the UK. Analysis revealed that the iPhone contains toxic brominated compounds (indicating the prescence of brominated flame retardants (BFRs)) and hazardous PVC. The findings are detailed in the report, "Missed call: the iPhone's hazardous chemicals"

There have been thousands of media articles about the iPhone. Few of them have discussed the phone's environmental credentials.

Social Networking: Resistance is futile

For the past few months or so I’ve been getting an increasing numbers of requests to join this or that social network. Up until a week ago I’d resisted all of them, whether it’s simple email contact organisers such as Plaxo, the lesser known Hi5, the business-minded LinkedIn or the social star of the moment, Facebook.

I don’t know what it is, but something makes me baulk at the idea of adding more communications channels to my already overloaded mix. I can’t keep up with email, and as friends attest I have a strange habit of either leaving the mobile at home or not answering it anyway, so what chance have I got if I throw in one or three social networks?

Other objections: I’m already a world-class procrastinator and I just know the likes of Facebook would be more excuses not to hit the keyboard productively. Then there’s the concept of sharing all of your contacts with whoever you happen to befriend in the social non-world. Is that always desirable?

For example, I and a mate in the financial services industry were both contacted by the same person to join their social network. It was probably fair enough, as both of us knew him and were reasonably close. Still, my finance friend guy called up to get the lowdown on the network. “So you’re telling me that once I join, all his friends can see who my business contacts are? Toss that!” Well, actually, he didn’t say “toss” that, but needless to say he didn’t think it was a great idea. And I’m not so sure myself.

Of course some networks let you hide your contacts, others not. When it comes to privacy, I’m even a tad concerned at the way Gmail makes my presence known to just about anyone who I’ve ever exchanged email with and also happens to use Gmail. If you’re a Gmailer you’ll know exactly what I mean – the Quick Contacts list on the left either has a green, amber or red light showing your status at that time. If it’s orange, you know the person hasn’t checked in with Gmail for a while, however if it’s green or red, you know they’re around somewhere.

The problem with this is that you might not want someone that you happened to reply to once know that you’re online, whether you say you’re available (green) or not (red). For my liking, it gives too much information away (like the time of day or night you like to be at the computer), but I haven’t come across a way of customising the presence information so that some of my contacts can see it while others can’t. It would be a killer feature if you could, however, one that I’d be willing to shift email providers for.

In the meantime, I took the bold (for me) step of joining LinkedIn the other day. Yes, I know I’m late to the game, but I thought I’d still try to play. It’s obviously well thought out, but for my line of work I found the job categories a bit limiting. Basically, I wanted a catch-all “media” category, but instead I had to make a selection from the likes of information services, broadcast media, writing and editing, and media production.

Problem is, in today’s media world you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. For example, at the last CommunicAsia I mainly did broadcast video interviews, and more lately I’ve been doing a fair bit of online media and production, although essentially I consider myself a writer/journalist. I’d imagine a lot of other industries are hit by this type of convergence, so hopefully the LinkedIn folks have catered for it.

As for the usefulness, it’s too early for me to say, so I decided to do a straw poll among those who I’d linked to and see how much value they’d gotten out of it. It was roughly a 60/40 split, with 60 percent suggesting it wasn’t really of any benefit. However, of those that did find it useful, one of the most common reasons was for catching up with former university or work colleagues. Only about 20 percent found it useful professionally. (And no, there was absolutely no scientific method to my poll whatsover.)

Of those that did find it useful, they tended to be in the contracting/consulting business, and some had found it a good tool (or knew others that had found it useful) when it came to job hunting. At the other end of the scale, some advised me outright not to bother with LinkedIn as I’d get more value from Facebook, while another suggested that he’d found the most value in the Plaxo contact manager.

I’m still willing to experiment, so if you’d like to connect, send me an invite to geoff at That said, one of the features that would be really useful is the ability to delete your entire presence if you decide it’s not for you. That’s one feature I don’t think LinkedIn offers, at least in the free version, but which would certainly help pursuade those of us still not convinced about the privacy safeguards of this whole social networking thing to at least try it. – Geoff Long

Friday, October 12, 2007

Google turns 10! (Trust me, it's true)

You might have read about Google's latest push for the enterprise space - beefed up email security and added compliance services for users of its Google Apps Premier Edition thanks to technology from the Postini acquisition. It also follows last month's news that consultancy firm Capgemini would start offering Google's online software to its business customers. Yet another sign that Google is serious about the enterprise sector, and some might argue a sign that the company is maturing.

It's funny you should mention that because a little-known milestone passed on September 15 that strangely got very little coverage - Google's 10th Birthday. Actually it probably passed without notice because Google wasn't celebrating it. In fact, they prefer to say they're only nine years old, as they highlighted via their search page logo a few weeks ago.

But by my reckoning they're 10. That's because September 15, 1997 was the day Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two 24-year-old Stanford University students, registered the "" domain name. A year later they incorporated the company, but given that it's an Internet company I reckon it's appropriate to mark the anniversary on the day the domain name was registered.

Perhaps they were not keen to celebrate because in the technology industry, 10 years is a long time. Many users still think of Google as the fresh newcomer that reminded the old-timers, most notably Microsoft, that every company reaches its peak and that it's downhill from there. Let's face it, nobody likes the sudden realisation that they're approaching middle age (trust me), yet that's precisely where Microsoft and its peers (the likes of Oracle and SAP) are today.

Now that it's 10, Google also needs to deal with its new maturity. Perhaps one of the reasons why it's sometimes compared with some of the more prominent startups, such as Facebook, is that nothing seems to ever get out of "beta". Take Gmail - I've been relying on it for a couple of years now yet it's still a beta project. So is the Google Calendar and others in the growing list of hosted applications that I (and I suspect many others) have now incorporated into business life.

Keeping something like Gmail in perpetual beta is a mistake. Why? Because these days Google is seriously courting the enterprise space, as demonstrated by the announcements referred to earlier, and many enterprises are not going to adopt a beta product. They want something that's been tested, then tested some more and that comes with a water-tight guarantee that it works. A system that proudly advertises that it's still in beta is not what the newly-appointed compliance manager wants to see.

It also explains why not everyone is convinced of Google's enterprise credentials. According to Burton Group analyst Guy Creese, while Google is making a major contribution to the adoption of SaaS solutions within the IT sector, he said its application suite has weaknesses that large enterprises cannot ignore, such as the product's lack of user roles, no departmental categories, and minimal records management as examples.

"Burton Group believes many enterprises will begin investigating SaaS offerings for collaboration and content due to Google's industry influence, but recommends organisations wait for market maturity, or look to more sophisticated offerings," he said.

And there's that word again: maturity. So let's not pretend Google is a fresh-faced startup. It's a 10-year-old company and it should not be keeping its products in perpetual beta, particularly if it wants to be taken seriously in the enterprise space. In the meantime, congratulations Google on a remarkable first decade! -- Geoff Long

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Telecom and the Burma crackdown

There’s been a lot of talk and reports of how Internet and technology have managed to focus world attention on the protests and subsequent crackdown in Burma (Myanmar). Whether it’s via cell phone, blog, picture sharing sites or old-fashioned email, the consensus is that more news got out, and got out a lot quicker, than during the last big uprising and crackdown in 1988.

Since then the military junta has cut off the Internet connection, but still there were some reports still getting through via mobile phone cameras, although it seems they have even tried to shut down the cell network as well. That leaves some satellite connections at private companies and embassies, and perhaps some roving satellite phone subscribers. Let’s hope they don’t succeed in closing the last remaining view into the country completely.

As it turns out, I happened to be tracking a story on the junta’s plans for its very own cyber city just before the protests began. There had been quite a few reports of a 10,000-acre (4,050 hectare) “Yadanabon cyber city” project about 70 kms east of Mandalay, the country’s second largest city. According to Xinhua news agency, not only was it going ahead, but the first stage would be officially opening in January 2008 and with some big-name tenants from China, Russia, Thailand and Malaysia.

The Irrawaddy, probably the best news source about Burma, did a story back in June that panned the grand ICT plans of the junta. In particularly it quoted Reporters without Borders, which labelled Burma an Internet black hole and suggested that no foreign company in their right mind would risk going there.

Yet according to Xinhua last month, the list of companies signed up to be anchor tenants in the cyber city included the likes of ZTE and Alcatel Shanghai Bell (ASB) from China, Thailand’s Shin Satellite, IP Tel from Malaysia and Russian software outfit CBOSS. It also claimed that an airport had been built “in” the cyber city and that “various systems including ADSL, CATV, Triple Play and WiMax are being installed, experts said, adding that the present stage before the soft opening deals with fiber cable installation.”

That’s quite a detailed list of development. As it turned out, I was at a satellite conference in Bangkok the same week and had a chance to ask a number of people at Shin Satellite directly, including the company president. Not one person had even heard of the Yadanabon cyber city, never mind being an anchor tenant. I then contacted Alcatel about the Alcatel Shanghai Bell (ASB) involvement and got the same response – there were no plans to invest in the cyber city project.

Obviously the military dictatorship had simply made up stories to give their ICT project some credibility. They’ve got the patch of cleared jungle for the site, but now they are desperate to get foreign investors to part with their money so they pretend that companies are already moving in. I’m also guessing that the likes of Shin Satellite and ASB were named because they do have activities within Burma. Shin has an agreement with the Myanmar Posts and Telecommunication to provide satellite services throughout the country, including VoIP and Internet access via satellite, while ASB has in the past been involved in mobile and fixed network projects there.

One group that picked up on ASB’s involvement thanks to the Xinhua report was Corporate Social Responsibility Asia (CSR Asia). It noted in a posting on its web site that Alcatel Shanghai Bell was Alcatel-Lucent’s flagship company in China, and that Alcatel Lucent had a portion of its web site devoted to the topic of CSR, including its commitment to the UN Global Compact. The GC requests companies to avoid complicity in human rights abuses, yet as CSR Asia noted, with an investment in Burma there is sure to be some questioning of how they intend to ensure that.
That’s quite a contentious issue, and as no other media had followed up on it, I decided to question CSR Asia and at the same time let them know that the original news source on the main companies’ involvement in Yadanabon cyber city was probably incorrect. However, there was still their involvement in general telecom projects within the country to consider.

Stephen Frost, a founder and director of CSR Asia, started off by suggesting there may well be a role for the likes of Alcatel and Shin Satellite to invest in Burma from a CSR perspective. “Sanctions are clearly failing and the junta looks no more likely to relinquish power today than when the sanctions were applied. Moreover, engagement hasn’t worked either,” he told me. Frost also suggested that it might be time for a serious discussion on whether investment with “CSR strings attached” could play a role. “I’m not suggesting companies should invest; just saying it really needs to be discussed outside of the confines of the ‘Burma sanctions lobby’,” he noted.

On the subject of Alcatel specifically, however, he said the issue isn’t so much that Alcatel invests, but rather the disconnect between its CSR position (as stated on the web site) and its actual practice. “The statements on the parent company’s web site re the Global Compact point to laziness at best,” he noted, adding: “I think the company is mis-managing its brand by failing to engage with the Burma issue fully and transparently.”

Frost also pointed out that around the same time as the cyber city news stories were surfacing, Alcatel-Lucent had announced that it had been accepted onto the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. Yet other companies were in the past “essentially thrown off that index” over their Burma investments, he pointed out.

There are no easy solutions here, but as the world lauds the fact that the Internet was able to play a small role in getting information out on the junta’s brutal crackdown, it also needs to be aware that the technology also aids and abets that same junta. And if it eventually does go ahead with its cyber city, companies need to be very certain that the investments they make really are going to be beneficial – both to them and the people of Burma – in the long term. – Geoff Long

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

We need Asia's voice!!

Update: poll is now done. Thanks if you responded.

Check out the poll on the right. It's from a fellow blogger and consultant based in Europe, Benoit Felten. The poll is being hosted on a few blogs and web sites, but basically they need more input from Asia. So if you have an opinion, please help out by making your choice and casting your vote.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Geelong wins it after 44 years

Quiet start to the blogging week -- I'm still recovering from Geelong's record win in the Aussie Rules Grand Final. Hey, having grown up in Geelong, supporting Geelong, and with the name G(eoff) Long, these things have to be done. A first in my NotShort lifetime.
Go Cats 2008

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Note to ITU: Not another boring trade show, please!

As promised, here's my column dealing with how the ITU might make the Telecom Asia event in Bangkok next year worth attending. It originally appeared in CommsDay and Broadband Communities, which you can sign up for at

You might have already heard the news that Bangkok has been selected for next year's ITU Telecom Asia event. I must admit I was quite stunned when I first learned of it, given the political situation here and the southern turmoil. Makes you wonder how some of the other cities could have screwed up their bids so badly.

Actually Thailand has been trying to land this event for quite some time, having made a bid to be the 2004 host, which went to South Korea, and also the 2002 event in Hong Kong. So maybe they got extra points for persistence? They certainly didn't get it because of the public transport options going to the Impact venue out in Muang Thong Thani (if you're from out of town and planning to attend, install some games or an e-book on your PDA, as it will help kill the travelling time).

But enough of the cynicism, Bangkok has been known to put on a good event before. The old 3G Congress (now Mobility World) did a stint in Bangkok before scampering off back to Hong Kong, while the tech-focussed APRICOT (Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies if you must know) has also been successfully held here. But both of those were, it must be noted, held at the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre -- a far more accessible venue but unfortunately too small on this occasion.

I have noticed that Bangkok is popular within the telecom sector, particularly among those who golf or are into the food, so hopefully that will offset the logistics nightmare that awaits. There are some other things that the organisers can do to make the event memorable, however. First and foremost, they can vow to radically alter the format and style that most major trade events follow.

I was quite critical of another ITU event, last year's Telecom World in Hong Kong, but the same criticism applies to many of these events, including CommunicAsia down in Singapore. It seems the main concern is dragging enough exhibitors into the event, with less effort on first and foremost making the "content'' world class. Yep, just like the telcos that attend, these events need to alter their operating models.

The ITU events do have a forum/conference component to them, but the last few I've attended have been boring. In Hong Kong last year I couldn't help noticing that a lot of the keynote speakers were top brass at some of the major exhibitors. While some did have something to say, others delivered little more than a corporate spiel, and what they did say was uninspiring. In particular, many Asian CEOs, from some of the world's largest companies, really need to work on their presentation skills if they're to be taken seriously.

Some of it can be put down to speaking in their non-native tongue, or having to go through a translator, but many non-English speakers from other parts of the world can get around it. In fact, the best presentation I came across was from a Spanish-speaking South American but delivered in English. He had something to say so people were prepared to put in the extra effort to listen.

The forum organisers could also have a look at how some of the other conferences are attracting an enthusiastic crowd and rave reviews. For example, the seminars and brainstorming sessions from the guys at Telco 2.0 in the UK, or some of the many interesting ones from O'Reilly, such as the E-Tech (emerging technology) conferences.

There are scads of others in the U.S. as well, but the point is that the ITU needs to create a conference that people are lining up to attend, not one where the speakers are from the biggest exhibitors. Nor even because they're the CEO of a particularly large company, but rather because they have something compelling to say and they tend to say it in a compelling way.
There are loads of other ideas they could implement too. For example rather than just a separate youth conference, get some well-spoken Thai youths up on stage telling the out-of-touch telco bosses what they want from a mobile or broadband service. And better yet, have them roaming around the halls doing live video, blogging and whatever else they do and put it online for all to access.

And get speakers from the new players that are going to eat the traditional telco's lunch, like the Skypes, Googles and anyone else with a disruptive business model. And while we're at it, involve anyone from the Thai regulatory side over the years and get them to justify leaving the country as a telecom backwater when it could be so much more.

I'm just scratching the surface here, but the point is they should be thinking out-of-the-box so that they can create a memorable event. The last thing we need is a boring, same-old trade event where the only thing you remember is the traffic getting to and from the venue.

*Got some suggestions for making ITU Bangkok event memorable? Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

WiMax for ships in Singapore

Here's a novel use for WiMax. Singapore today announced that it plans to make its seaport WiMax-ready. The world's first WiMax port in fact, although probably no one else has given it much thought.

Apparently the government will spend S$12 million to allow ships to access broadband communications and services offshore. It's called the Infocomm@SeaPort programme.

Here's what they're trying for: "thanks to “WISEPORT” (WIreless-broadband-access for SEaPort), activities that could only be done onshore previously can now be achieved offshore as well, from regulatory filings, to broadband communications, to real-time access to navigational data. WISEPORT is one of the initial projects under the Infocomm@SeaPort programme, which aims to provide a mobile wireless broadband network within 15km from Singapore’s southern coastline."

Later this year there will be a Call-for-collaboration (CFC) to develop new WISEPORT content and software applications for the seaport community. They said these content and applications could range from messaging services that allow ships to communicate more cost-effectively with other parties, to applications that allow ships to book maritime services through the high-speed network.

You got to hand it to the Singaporeans, they really are top-notch when it comes to e-govt type initiatives.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Who needs a phone company?

A while back I suggested that the phone company of the future will most likely look a lot different to that of today. In fact, you might not make calls through a phone company at all, but rather it will be just one of many services that you can access when you’re on the network. That day looks like it’s coming sooner rather than later.

A perfect example is Swedish mobile VoIP provider Rebtel, which has come up with a Facebook application called Reb Me. From what I can gather it allows Facebook users to call each other via Reb Me for the price of a local call or in some cases for free. Okay, it’s not that different to the likes of Skype and all the other VoIP offerings out there, but the fact that you can call outside users from within Facebook adds another dimension.

There’s also a bunch of other applications that allow you to do voice communications within Facebook, listed on Dan York’s disruptive telephony blog. Examples include WalkieTalkie, which provides private voice chat for Facebook groups, and Chatterbox, which allows users to leave voice messages on your Facebook profile. There are already a few others, but you can expect a lot more in the coming months given the way application developers are flocking to Facebook.

Another more recent voice app for Facebook is FWD, which used to be called Free World Dialup and which has been around for years. This one is particularly interesting given it has some high-profile backers: Tom Evslin, former co-founder of VoIP provider IXTC is an investor and board member; the CEO of the company is Dan Berninger, a VoIP pioneer and founder of the VON Coalition; while Jeff Pulver, the original founder of Free World Dialup, is chairman. Not a bad pedigree.

According to Evslin, the initial service will allow FWD members to exchange voice mail with each other as well as with Facebook members who install the FWD application. After that they will aim to connect users of other social networks with each other and with the many SIP-based VoIP networks that peer with FWD.

And he says voice mail is “just an interesting opening wedge for FWD on social networks.” Other services that can be expected are real-time communications, messaging and presence management, all of which are existing services on FWD itself.

According to Evslin, the end goal will be to link all of the islands of communications that exist in the VoIP world and within social networking and connect them altogether. “At FWD we believe that real-time Internet-based communication including voice is ready to move from islands of service – think of Skype and Facebook as big islands – to universal connectivity,” he wrote in a posting on his web site. “We think that off-island service will be as free of incremental costs as on-island service is today. This Internet-based communication – unlike today’s islands of VoIP service – is a much more capable replacement for, not an evolution of, the current tolled phone service.”

And of course FWD won’t be the only company out there trying to tie all of the various networks together. If you think the VoIP space is busy now, it will only get more congested.

Just as a small sampler of what the future may hold, imagine if anyone could embed VoIP into their own Flash-based applications. That’s what a company called Ribbet Phone is doing. It has a “phone component” that developers can put in any standard Flash-based browser app, so you can make telephone calls directly from a browser, as well as add other communications services.

Yep, phone service – not to mention your phone company – is going to look a lot different in the next couple of years, if not sooner. – Geoff Long

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Google plans Asia Pacific submarine cable

In case you missed it, Commsday had a world exclusive on Friday with news that Google is going to be one of the builders of a multi-terabit undersea communications cable across the Pacific Ocean for launch in 2009. This is obviously major disruptive news. Here's what my Commsday colleague Grahame Lynch had to say: Google would get access to a fibre pair at build cost handing it a tremendous cost advantage over rivals such as MSN and Yahoo, and also potentially enabling it to peer with Asia ISPs behind their international gateways - considerably improving the affordability of Internet services across Asia Pacific.

You can read the full story here. Commsday is a daily subscription newsletter which I also report for. You can sign up for a free trial at the web site. Grahame has more on the story for the coming week, so if you're interested probably now is a good time to sign up for the trial ;-)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

ITU Telecom Asia heads to Bangkok in 2008

HUGE news: the ITU's Telecom Asia event, held every two years, is coming to Bangkok. Actually Thailand has been trying to land this event for quite some time, having made a bid to be the 2004 host, which went to South Korea, and also the last event in 2006, which was eventually held in Hong Kong.

I've been critical of the ITU events in the past, but I still believe they can put on a good gig if they listen to some of the criticism and go past the stale formats. Hopefully they will, because punters are going to love to come to Thailand.

Actually, the country has been growing as an events destination for some time. The old 3G Congress (now Mobility World) did a stint in Bangkok before scampering off back to Hong Kong, while the tech-focussed APRICOT event has also been successfully held here.

And this week, I've been attending the Asia Pacific Satellite Communication Council annual conference here in Bangkok. In case you don't subscribe to CommsDay, the big news is that the satellite sector is expecting a slowdown because of the sub-prime loans crisis. You can read the story on the Commsday web site now. Actually I'll be taking part in the final day's golf tournament tomorrow at Alpine golf course - looking forward to that one!

So Bangkok can put on an event. Still, was a surprise that the city got it, particularly given the current political situation and the insurgency problem down south. I'm going to write a column about this for next week, so eventually it will make it's way here. Stay tuned!

The ITU's press release is also available if you're interested.

ITU Telecom World needs some disrupting

This is an article I wrote for CommsDay Asean after attending last year's ITU extravaganza in Hong Kong. As you can read, I wasn't exactly overenthused by the whole thing. But there's room for improvement and it's coming to Bangkok. Yes, to Bangkok, Thailand!! More coming . . .

As the 23 tons of temporary trusses came down and the 28,484 sq meters of carpet up from the floors that housed ITU Telecom World last week, I did the only sensible thing on offer: I went camping. Yep, after all the well-meaning but meaningless talk of bridging the digital divide (yet again), I decided I’d rather be on the other side of it. So it was goodbye IP-TV, ciao mobile TV and into a national park that was blissfully free of any TV or Internet.

For those who went to Hong Kong last week, I’d be really interested to know what you thought of the ITU’s three-yearly telecoms extravaganza (email me at if you like). Personally, I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the sheer size (in terms of square metres) of the event, but also the scale of the commercialisation of it all. Underwhelmed because, frankly, it’s just another very large trade event – and not a particularly inspiring one at that.

Anyone who managed to check out all 695 stands spread out over the 41,000 sq meters of exhibition space was either a fitness freak or desperately giving out marketing material. As for the ITU’s claims that this is a not-for-profit event, that’s a question of semantics. It’s certainly a money-generating exercise and in that regard it’s no different from any other trade show around the world.

I ended up spending most of my time in the forums, but I couldn’t help noticed that a lot of the keynote speakers were top brass at some of the major exhibitors. While some did have something to say, others delivered little more than a corporate spiel, and what they did say was uninspiring. In particular, many Asian CEOs, from some of the world’s largest companies, really need to work on their presentation skills if they’re to be taken seriously.

Some of it can be put down to speaking in their non-native tongue, or having to go through a translator, but many non-English speakers from other parts of the world can get around it. In fact, the best presentation I came across was from a Spanish-speaking South American but delivered in English. He had something to say so people were prepared to put in the extra effort to listen.

In the airport lounge before flying home, I came across an article by Kumiko Makihara in the International Herald Tribune that went some way to explaining the poor English among the Japanese elite (and it’s presumably similar in other parts of North Asia). “In this extremely conformist society, even children are reluctant to stand out by speaking better or worse than their peers,” he wrote, noting that there is still a stubborn insular mentality among Japan’s elite. Like it or not, fluency in English and presentation skills are essential in today’s global business world, and as Makihara noted, the country cannot expect to thrive despite the lack of English as it did in the past.

But back to ITU Telecom World: I sometimes wondered what the point of the event was supposed to be. Is it a snapshot of the industry and intended to look at current and future trends? Or is there some sort of altruistic, UN-style goal that is pushing everyone to look at and provide a solution for the unequal spread of communications? Let’s face it, the hot topic of IP-TV isn’t going to help wire up Africa.

Yet connecting the unconnected was what Fernando LagraƱa, executive manager of ITU TELECOM, summed up as the goal of the event in a closing statement issued by the organisation: “As well as the innovation, the lively debate, the busy halls and the fun, I hope its real legacy is as a milestone in our commitment to bridge the Digital Divide together”.

One of the problems I found is that the event is trying to be all things to all people. It’s trying to show off the latest and greatest while at the same time finding basic solutions for the unconnected. It’s trying to be a showcase for the mobile world when the mobile world has its own focussed event in Cannes/Barcelona every year. In fact, all of the various segments are best served by their own focussed events, whether it’s about security or wireless broadband.

It’s also trying to latch onto trends such as social networking when these groups are better represented in cyberspace or their own informal meets. In other words, the communications industry is not the same as it was in 1971 when the first Telecom World was held. It has fragmented and segmented and specialised and moved on. Yet the ITU seems to be still catering to the telecoms model of old with an event to match. Maybe the ITU and its events needs to face some of the same disruption that the telcos are facing? – Geoff Long