Thailand at Dawn of the New Economy:
Thaweesak Koanantakool and
3rd May, 2000
(Adapted from the same article in the Bangkok Post 11th Anniversary Edition),
Revision 7, 4th May 2000.
How is the country the size of France with well developed infrastructures of transport, telecommunications, water resources and financial market preparing itself for the dawn of ne w economy? Dr.Thaweesak and Dr.Chadamas of NECTEC provide a comprehensive picture of how Thailand is readying itself from the inside to catch the new wave through Information Technology and related activities in the new millennium.
If the year 1999 was the rainy Thailand, the year 2000 is probably our first sunshine. As a result of the countless hours of hard work of many organizations fighting with the millennium bug, Thaila nd went through the Y2K ordeal with great success. The National Y2K Coordination Committee, the Y2K Center at National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and thirty-one other " super-critical organizations" in Thailand played the leading roles in securing the world-wide confidence in the country. As always been the culture of Thailand, support and cooperation from all organizations during the 'crisis' was well done.
Having gone through both the economic crisis and Y2K problems, Thailand has changed significantly through its course for recovery. The country is in search for self reliance, and sustainable recovery. Given the well established web of industries and world-class infrastructure, structural adjustment in Thai industrial, agricultural, and financial sectors are set as priority one. We also hear and see actions to promote small and medium-sized enterprises (SME's) in terms of special fina ncial packages, innovation funds, and government supported R&D projects. These packages are managed by Ministry of Industry and Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.
ICT and New Economy
As the whole world will be dominated by globalized businesses and industries, Information and Communication Technologies (IT) play a tremendous role in the issues for long-term recovery and sustainabili ty. We see a lot of activities which are moving Thailand into the "New Economy", an economic system which is driven by knowledge, good management, computer networks and electronic commerce. In this regard, many things will happen before the end of year 2000. (See Table 1)
Following His Majesty the King's speech on "The Sufficiency Economy", the National Science and Technology Development Agency ran its annual conference in this year based on this philosophy. Putting efforts in research and development ( R&D) is in alignment with the philosophy and will likely boost the country's industrial strength in terms of more self-reliance. This, in turn, will yield better economic return in the long term with lower risks.
The government recently approved a budget of seven billion baht in the next five years for the Science and Technology Action Plan for strategic R&D projects. Among them is the project for research and development of modern telecomm unication equipment in Thailand.
R&D in information technology (IT) is proving itself to be a worthwhile undertaking. In year 2000, NECTEC completed its first major research program for industrial production: the PHS/PCT cordless phone handset. These small-sized mobile units are the first batch of outcome in NECTEC's research in Wireless Local Loop (WLL). Lining up are the fixed terminal for homes and the development of cell stations.
In addition, many other aspects in developing electronic commerce, including legislation of IT laws, enhancing IT development in government agencies through their CIO (chief information officers) will be given a strong boost in this yea r and after.
The Government CIO program, in tandem with the Government Information Technology Services (GITS) project, is a promising effort to create a unified Government Information Network (GINet). GINet aims at linking all government agencies e verywhere in the country together on an information superhighway, with agreed information exchange standards and secured messaging system. GINet runs the public-key infrastructure (PKI) for all government agencies.
NECTEC, the nation's main driving force in IT development, went through a complete transformation. Its mission is to become a leading agency that will tackle many national agendas regarding IT. It recently announced the new "Strategic Master Plan on Electronic, Computer, Telecommunication and Information (ECTI) Technologies" for the years 2000-2009. The plan, also called ECTI-21, has been publicly announced on April 24, 2000, exactly one year after its conception and consultation wit h the public stake- holders in these industries.
[Table 1 – Some indicators for moving to New Real Economy?]
Issue What used to be. Will become.
--------------------------- ------------------- ---------------------------
Telecommunications monopoly by CAT and TOT. ended since March 2000.
Telephone availability around 13 lines more available with large
Per 100 population. percentage as mobile phones.
Internet business under 30% of CAT golden the golden share is
Restricted growth shares in every to be ended around mid-2000.
E-commerce legality no explicitly electronic transactions will be
supporting laws supported by new Acts.
Low cost Internet access hard to find. available nationwide with
(around US$0.50/hr) local call access
Free Internet for schools available for available to 5,000 schools
1,500 schools. (every secondary schools and
many primary schools).
Free commercial Internet does not exist. a possible scenario
(but doubtful if feasible).
Digital Divide so much. less (but still considerable)
(Gap between the “haves” there are action programs
and the “have nots”. and drafting of universal
access law to narrow the gap.
Computer in schools available but will be put into use
unusable at many with some of the schools
schools. connected to SchoolNet.
Schools on the Internet About 1,800 schools will cover all secondary
(1,400 with schools in the country.
Price of PC unaffordable by will be lowered further
many, but was due to local
lowered due to manufacturering and low-price
ITA-1. PC project by NECTEC.
Price of mobile phones high for both lowered due to competition
handsets and from PCT and new mobile
air time. operator (TOT).
Thai software industry small, scattered, they are now supported
and weak. by Software Park Project.
New opportunities opened by
E-commerce, Application service
Election frauds went unstopped. stopped with legal actions
Taken by the Election
Corporate Good Governance did not receive now become a major issue
Much attention. for all organizations.
[End of Figure 1]
IT Project of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn
While many of the IT initiatives aim at increasing the use of IT for economic competitiveness, the IT Project under the initiatives of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn emphasizes on utilizing IT to improve education, quality-of-life and to enhance opportunity for the under-privileges.
Five main programs, i.e., IT for Education, IT for the Disabled Persons, IT for the Sick Children, IT for Cultural Information Dissemination, and Computer Teaching for In-Mates, have been carried out th rough coordination between NECTEC (secretariat of the Project), and relevant agencies, such as Ministry of Education (Department of General Education, Department of Non-Formal Education, etc.), Ministry of Interior (Office of the corrections).
A significant spin-off from activities concerning the disabled persons is the official establishment of R&D Center on Assistive Technology, and the Service Center on Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities. Both initiativ es have been approved by the NITC and is being submitted for the Cabinet for approval.
[Read Full Article … …]
Thailand determined to legislate six new laws to embrace information technology since December 1998. The cabinet then appointed NECTEC, being the secretariat office of the NITC, to coordinate and manage the drafting process. Prominent legam experts were invited to chair the six drafting committees, in which a group of NECTEC staff served as the technological experts and as secretariat. The laws are required in order to make sure that we will not be left behind in the old economy whil e the whole global economy are electronically connected.
On March 14, 2000, the cabinet approved the Electronic Transactions Bill and the Electronic Signature Bill. As of May, 2000 the Council of State of Thailand is now scrutinizing the bills for submission to the Parliament. After Parliam ent approval and His Majesty the King's signature, they will become Acts.
The two laws have been identified as the most significant legal infrastructure, which will expedite the development of e-business in Thailand. While many companies already moved ahead for e-business, the more conservative ones still th ink of the risks involved with the adoption of electronic data records instead of original paper documents.
Electronic Transactions Act defines the legal status of electronic records as being equal to paper documents, if they are properly handled. The Act also defines the scope of legal recognition of transmission and reception processes for electronic data records; time and place of occurrences of such transmission.
Electronic Signature Act defines the electronic equivalence of signature as a proof to identity of the signing party (i.e., authentication) and that the signer approves the content that is being signed. The law is neutral to the choice of technology used for electronic signature. It recognizes the well established trusted third-party system of Certification Authority (CA) and public-key infrastructure (PKI) based on encryption technology. At the same time, it also gives a freedom of choices for business parties to choose their own kind of electronic signature.
Of no less significant, drafting of the Universal Access Act (Bylaw of the Constitution Article 78) should be completed by September this year.
Other drafts in the pipeline are the Computer Crime Act, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, and the Data Protection Act, which will be coming out by early next year. These laws should lay down sufficient legal framework for Thailand to enter the new economy with more confidence.
[Heroes working Behind the Scene in Law Drafting-- Sidebar]
Law drafting, even with the availability of UNCITRAL model law and uniform rules, involves so many other important aspects. The new laws to be enacted in Thailand must not only be consistent with the international practice, it must also blend well wit h the local environments (i.e. no conflict with existing laws), suitable to our society and does not applied to only a small set of privileged people. It should be easy for court practice and must be fair.
There are many senior authorities in the law of Thailand who work so hard with NECTEC to make it really happen, despite the difficulties in putting technology in the right perspective for law makers. To name just a few of them:
Professor Kanung Luchai, Chairman of the Criminal Law Institute, Adjunct Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Thammasat and Chulalongkorn Universities. Prof. Kanung is well recognized as the authority in International Trade Law, Criminal Law, Criminal Proced ure, Law, and Conflict of Laws.
Mr.Pairoj Wayuparb, Deputy Chief Justice, Court, Lecturer, Bar Association, Adjunct Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University. He is the expert in the fields of Civil Law, Civil and Criminal Procedure.
Mr. Jayavadh Bunnag, Managing Director of International Legal Counsellors Thailand Ltd. He is the expert in Trade, Investment and Financial Law, Mineral and Petroleum Law, Arbitration Law.
Associate Professor Phunthip Kanchanachitra Saisoonthorn, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University. She is an expert in conflict of laws and International Law
Other advisors: Dr.Pinai Na Nakorn of the Council of State, Dr. Lerson Thanasukarn of Chulalongkorn University.
Electronic Commerce Initiatives
The Electronic Commerce Resource Center (ECRC:http://www.ecommerce.or.th/) was set up by the cabinet resolution in December 1 998 as a unit within NECTEC/NSTDA. Led by Dr. Pichet Durongkaveroj, the Director of ECRC and advisor to NECTEC, the center has drafted the Electronic Commerce Policy Framework. The framework outlines strategies and measures that Thailand should a dopt to promote e-commerce as a tool to compete and survive in the new economy. This has gone through several public hearings, both in Bangkok and in all regions of Thailand.
The revised draft framework is now ready to be submitted to the E-Commerce Policy Task Force, a national committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Trairong Suwankiri. The policy framework will subsequently be sent to th e Cabinet, for approval and execution.
As parts of its mandates, ECRC prepares human resources for the business, industry and SMEs. ECRC has organized several training courses through its close alliances with many institutes and organizations. A few strategic industries th at ECRC has placed high priority on are tourism, agriculture, and local handicrafts. These sectors are targeted as the most feasible for boosting their production, business process and markets if they join the electronic commerce "bandwagon" environment created by several supporting infrastructures.
In order to create the solid supporting infrastructure for Thailand, NECTEC started hosting data exchanges among all local ISPs via a multi-client research program called the "Internet Information Research" or IIR (formerly known as the Public Internet Exchange). IIR provides an up-to-date report on the status of Internet in Thailand. It is publicly accessible fromhttp://www.nectec.or.th/internet/.
At the time of this publication, IIR has more than 354 Mbps of total bandwidth to all Internet service providers, academic hubs and other data exchange in Thailand. It circulates more than 230 gigabytes of information transfer in each day, and the volume is increasing. With the availability of fiber backbone connections to all telecommunications provider in Thailand, IIR is the most suitable location for ISPs to wire up their broadband connection in order to place all servers closer t o the backbone of the Internet in Thailand.
In fact, all telecommunications provider (fixed line and mobile) have installed their fiber optic infrastructure throughout Bangkok and Thailand, with multi-core fiber connection to the building in which where NECTEC runs IIR project. To our last observation, the overlayed fiber network within Bangkok alone is probably five times that of the project Singapore-ONE. Such broadband connectivity to the central exchange like IIR will be a natural development as many providers are starting ADSL and cable-modem services.
A critical e-commerce infrastructure project has been carried out by NECTEC's sister organisation -- Internet Thailand Company, the first and largest ISP in the country (40% market share measured by actual traffic volume and by network size).
Instead of running its own e-commerce company as with many other ISPs, Internet Thailand positions its e-commerce effort as a stepping stone for Thai businesses to move forward on the e-commerce arena. Such an effort provides a unique combination of low cost and risk-free infrastructure service for bandwidth, secure payment, logistics, insurance and hardware/software platform for those businesses. The approach is aimed at preparing Thai businesses for the new commerce paradigm at the lowest business risks and investment.
As an ISP who provides connectivity for businesses with a combined revenue of one trillion baht (US$ 26 billion), Internet Thailand started a neutral yet highly diverse portal site called THAI-DOT-COM,http://www.thai.com/, with free commerce hosting provision to all business partners (merchants, banks, application service providers).
A number of commercial banks have already connected and begun automated secure payment services and a lot more banks are being tested in the pipeline.
With good brand, excellent connectivity, a diversity of products and services offered, a wide variety of secured payment options, and full operations under ECRC e-commerce legal framework, THAI.COM will be able to act as a very low cost , low risk e-commerce infrastructure for the local businesses. For this very reason, several application service providers offering outsourcing services are beginning to appear under the collective brand THAI.COM for their greater exposure to a matured e- commerce community.
Another infrastructure which NECTEC Software and Language Science Laboratory is working on is the "machine translation service". Through a long-term research, a preliminary machine translation service web site is being developed to hel p people reading English web sites in Thai language (and vice versa in the future). This service will basically help Thai people who are not very good at English to access information provided only in the English language.
In addition, a Thai-made word processor called "Khian Thai 2000" will be released in June 2000 to allow people to edit texts written in Thai/English language easily with an integrated dictionary (English-Thai and Thai-English) to help t hem read and learn English faster. The service is expected to help the Internet users in general, which is also a part of E-Commerce.
Since June 1999, NECTEC launched the "Web-13" automated Telephone Directory Service at the web sitehttp://www.phonebook.thai.net. The service is a collaboration between NECTEC and the Telephone Organization of Thailand. At this web site, any Internet user can easily search for telephone numbers in Thailand instantly. One unique feature of this service is called "reverse d irectory search" whereby one can look for subscriber's name from a given telephone number. The popularity of this service is very high.
As Internet use has grown tremendously over the past few years, problems concerning access, inappropriate use, and security, for example, are becoming more prevalent. Therefore, NITC, has set up an Int ernet Policy Task Force last year, to develop policy guidelines and measures to tackle these problems. Issues that the task force have been working on include: surveys of Internet usage characteristics, standards for the Thai domain name, inappropriate u se, and security.
So far, the secretariat team of the task force has published a survey of Internet user profiles of Thailand. The book gives a comprehensive view of gender, education, age, income statistics of the Internet users. Some statistics about their readiness for electronic commerce are also available. (Contactnitcemail@example.com for further information, or get a copy from http://www.thai.com/ ).
Security is a major concern of the task force. NECTEC provided a support for building up a Thai Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) for the task force. It is expected that a CERT could be in full service here within six months of preparation.
One of the areas that has been seriously considered is the development of a "National Intranet", to provide to the public, free Internet access to database containing useful information or education res ources, in Thai language. It is envisioned that these resources will be much valuable to the public at large, especially children and youth, and will help speeding up the process to bring Thailand into the knowledge-based society.
Government CIO/CEO Program
Thedecision of the government eighteen months ago to appoint all ministries and departments one Chief Information Office (CIO) per agency begin to show their effectiveness. Initially, many CIO's have diverse background and IT competency. Some of them are even shy for using IT. However, these senior officers seem to be good at their management work which needs some IT literacy program to make them more effective.
NECTEC, in cooperation with the Office of the Civil Service Commission (OCSC), has successfully trained nearly 200 Government CIO in 1999 in six two-week training courses. Most CIO's are now comfortable with IT.
Furthermore, a move was made to promote greater use of IT in the public sector with support from highest government executives. The cabinet, early this year, has approved the project to develop IT vision for high-ranking government of ficials, which proposed a mandatory half-day training for Chief Executive Officers (CEO's), i.e., the Permanent Secretary and the Director General.
Presently, a curriculum for CEO has been drawn up by NECTEC and OCSC. A series of training classes for CEOs, with approximately 30-40 attendants per class, should be started by August this year.
Also in the pipeline is the study to develop guidelines and standards for public information system, which will help the government operate more effectively and efficiently. More specifically, the system and standards will enable each government agency can fetch the most up to date data records from other government agencies via the government information network. This concept enables sharing and exchange of information among government agencies, and thus make a seamless flow of publi c services possible. Through this "data consistency" scheme, Thai government will be ready for e-services to its citizen within two years or shorter for many agencies.
Government Information Network (GINet)
Good governance and serving its people would be the motto for modern Thai government services. Our ultimate goal is e-service to Thai citizen, and our immediate problem to be solved is to make sure that all government agencies are armed with good equi pment, communication network and capable staff.
Year 2000 is the real beginning of the Government Information Network Service. As from February, the network equipment for the project were field tested in 20 provinces. A few government agencies with provincial branches have already contracted the s ervice organization, Government Information Technology Service (GITS) Office, to handle their data traffic between Bangkok and their branches.
After this test period of about six months, GITS will be a real production service. GITS information is available athttp://gits.nectec.or.th/, together with a directory service to all 223 government agencies that are already online with the Internet.
The main network service is typically a type of one large-bandwidth link between the customer Headquarters (i.e. government agencies in Bangkok) and their multiple branches in Bangkok and other provinces. Branch offices are connected to GITS points of presence (POP) by dial-up circuits. A virtual private network (VPN) value-added-service is provided for all users.
The initial bandwidth of the backbone of the test network is 128kbps to every provincial POP. The backbone speed will be upgraded to E1 (2Mbps) in the production stage. The ultimate backbone speed of the project was planned to be STM-1 (155 Mbps) or higher.
[GINet diagram is available, file ginet.jpg]
In addition to the network connection service, GITS has initiated many other services for its customers such as daily news clipping, government directory service, and secure electronic mail (using digital ID, certification authority (CA) and cooper ate with a partner. Through secure email, GITS demonstrates the importance of digital signature and PKI. A pilot CA has been set up to support the use of digital signature and made available to all GITS staff members and staff in the customer's organiza tion.
SchoolNet Expansion Program
As one of the three main pillars of the IT-2000 plan, education is treated as the most important long-term investment for the nation. It is important to boost all schools to leap-frog their education technology with the Internet in order to tap the we alth of global knowledge available on the Internet. Without NECTEC's SchoolNet Thailand program, it is hard to say how 1,400 schools can be connected to the Internet in such a short time. The magic of this fast development was partly due to the existenc e of a wonderful information network we started in 1996 as the Golden Jubillee Network (http://goldenjubilee.or.th) which owns a comprehensive na tionwide access service.
The Golden Jubilee Network, or Kanchanapisek Network in Thai, is another initiative of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. It is a place where NECTEC hosts mass of information in Thai language about His Majesty the King and his develop ment projects. We ran the project in celebration of His Majesty's fiftieth years of accession to the throne in 1996.
With the royal permission and the support from TOT and CAT (Communications Authority of Thailand), SchoolNet was made accessible from anywhere in the country without incurring the long-distance call charge. In addition, Internet access to SchoolNet wa s provided free of charge to 1,500 schools everywhere. As of April 2000, the project managed to get 1,409 schools online and more than 460 of them have web presence. Some of them became a very well-known and very popular websites. So does the project's website:www.school.net.th.
In October 1999, the government of Thailand approved a massive expansion of SchoolNet to cover 5,000 schools. This means that all secondary schools (grades 6 to 12) will be getting free Internet access, and so would be more than a thousand schools at the primary level and kindergarten. This ambitious project is now under implementation by NECTEC/NSTDA.
Network interconnection for schools is only part of a story. We need to invest more on contents and teachers. For many schools in the rural area, we do not even think of a computer because kids do not have enough food to eat and have no uniform to we ar.
SchoolNet content creation and promotion campaign
During the course of developing SchoolNet Thailand, it was found that major hindrance for schools in getting the benefit from the global knowledge is due to four factors. These are: the (lack of) computers, (lack of) access to the Internet, (lack of) r elevant contents for schools in Thai language and the (lack of computer fluent) teachers. While the Ministry of Education is solely responsible for the first factor, i.e., it has to equip the classrooms with computers and courseware, the other three fact ors are hardly provided by the ministry.
SchoolNet project identified these problems since 1998. The Internet access was quickly solved by the royal permission to use the Golden Jubilee Network to access SchoolNet. Almost all of SchoolNet budget at NECTEC, being very small, was directed to t he contents creation program and teachers' training. As from January 2000, a digital library for SchoolNet was successfully created. The digital library consists of more than 1,000 articles in Thai language which are classified and searchable from the I nternet. The articles were collected and prepared by schoolteachers who joined in the course "Building Digital Library for SchoolNet" set up by Kasetsart University and the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology.
Apart from the digital library, several schools developed their web sites with useful information and excellent educational materials. NECTEC also promotes international cooperation projects such as the GLOBE program, ThinkQuest, and AT&T Virtual Classroom.
For teachers' training, NECTEC provided pilot courses and teaching materials for Rajabhat Institute, which, in turn, will teach schoolteachers in SchoolNet project. In addition to this normal Internet course, NECTEC also provides a special course on L inux-SIS, our own distribution of Linux to be used as School Internet Server. SIS is very popular in Thailand due to its excellent documentation in Thai language, simple to install CD-ROM and web-based server management without the need to know UNIX comm ands. SIS training courses are always in constant demand from schools looking for reliable Internet server with the lowest cost.
A major restructuring in the software industry in Thailand took place for the most of 1999 through the most successful project by Thai government, Software Park Thailand (http://www.s wpark.or.th). Initiated by NECTEC/NITC and supported by the Board of Investment, the Software Park is the first and unique infrastructure Thailand ever build for this new industry.
Starting with a simple concept of common facility in the physical Software Park building, the local software developers in Thailand can enjoy professional support for international marketing, a one-stop meeting point for potential customers both locall y and from abroad, and high-speed networking. In addition, world leading companies like Intel, Informix, IBM etc. have invested in R&D infrastructure for local software companies to use at low or no cost. With the unified stream of supply for local talents, many multinational companies are now moving to Thailand to set up their development centers in Software Park.
In order to response to the need for high and consistent standard in software development, Software Park is also sponsoring a series of courses on Capacity Maturity Model (CMM) with a target that Thai software companies will attain CMM at least at leve l 2 as soon as possible.
Other supports from Software Park are in the form of the annual Software Fair, jointly organized with the Association of Thai Software Industry (ATSI); as well as some facilitation to join international software events such as COMDEX or CeBit.
A directory of Thai software directory is published annually by Software Park. The book gives a comprehensive view of the inventory of local talents, products, expertise in software.
Telecom Research - from WLL to WAP?
Due to its huge market in Thailand, telecommunication industry is a high-growth, large value market in Thailand. Before the economic crisis, the telecommunication service industry was expanded at an astonishing rate. The rate could be served only by full direct import, and no time for local R&D. However, when the economic problem stroke at the peak of the loan value in foreign currency, the telecommunication industry was badly hurt.
Understanding the pure risk of total dependent on loan base imported goods, Thai government recently provided a crash funding (Miyazawa Plan) to NECTEC/NSTDA to speed up its R&D project on wireless local loop. As in December, 1999, the first labor atory prototype of the PHS/PCT handset was in a matured stage. One local electronic company decided to manufacture it in large volume under a licensing contract from NECTEC. At the same time, TelecomAsia's recent official release of the PCT service resu lted in an impulsive buying of nearly 70,000 sets within a few days.
Wireless local loop can be applied in many other areas, such as rural telephones, fixed terminal for the homes, etc. It is also an important element to develop secure mobile commerce using Thai language everywhere (keyboard, display panel, short messa ge, and Wireless Application Protocol). In addition to the wireless technology, research program covering IMT-2000, Third-generation mobile phones, computer-telephone integration and call-centers are also part of the R&D programs in Thailand.
Thai government already committed a funding of about 300 million baht in the next 3 years to enlarge NECTEC's Telecommunications Technology Laboratory to continue these projects with more personnel and up to date equipment. Such a drastic action suppo rt is never before given to any agency, even in the days where the profit of TOT and CAT were in the order of tens of billion baht.
The return of this investment is clearly visible as the R&D amount is so small compared to the current import balance of telecommunications in the order of 100 billion baht per year where local values can easily be added for a few percents.
This project is a wake-up call of NECTEC to promote local PC industry through an improvement of local supply of computer parts. Locally assembled PC's were found to use around 20-40% of important parts which are made in Thailand! These parts include the three highest value components: the CPU chip (case of AMD), the hard disk (IBM, Seagate, Fujitsu) and the CRT (many brands).
Due to lack of coordination among government agencies and poor PC-industry support policy, some of these parts are exported to a neighboring country and re-imported for local assembly. These wasteful and expensive operations can be eliminated if the t op level policy maker and the implementing agencies work together.
NECTEC is running an industrial forum among local PC manufacturers, with this agenda as well as the existing project on the PC quality standard certification program. It is expected, that the large-volume consumers, probably the Ministry of Education, will be benefit the most from this project. However, all government agencies and the private sectors too can enjoy the new low price, made possible without lowering any quality.
In addition to the cost of hardware, NECTEC with the Bureau of Budget set up a series of meetings with software manufacturers to negotiate for government-wide license. The effort was a direct response to the government policy to procure all software l egally. Due to the limitation of budget and the generosity of the software companies, new low prices have been established and they are good enough to make this policy works. In conjunction with some low-cost software or free license like Linux and Sun' s Star Office, it is expected the increase use of legal software will be led by the government and those multinational corporations which already practice legal software purchasing.
Integrated circuits are considered as the building brick of information technology. Without these wonderful "IC chips", the world could not come this far. Modern computers and telecommunication equipment work better and faster while getting smaller a ll because of the progress in IC design and manufacturing technologies.
There are many IC packaging plants here in Thailand, but not a single wafer fabrication plant. According to a joint study by Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment and Ministry of Industry, there are many factors which make Thailand an ideal location for investing in a wafer fabrication business and IC design business.
First, Thailand is a country where the local consumption for IC chips is high and will be higher due to its openness to new technologies. Secondly, there are already many highly trained personnel who are willing to work in high-tech industry. This in clude the present 60 teams of young IC designers who joined NECTEC's first IC Design Contest and more than 200 Thai people around the region and in Silicon Valley who have experience in IC processing. And thirdly, there are excellent facilities in industr ial estates with good supply of water and electricity in an area closer than one hour drive from the international airport of Don Muang.
The government, through a cabinet approval, approves a project to invite microelectronic company to process their wafers here. In order to show its real commitment, the government recently approved the use of foreign loan funding to support the establ ishment of Thailand Microelectronic Center (TMEC). The amount of budget is about 1,395 million baht (USD 36.7 million) for the facility and local funding of about 150 million baht per year (USD 3.9 million) for the operation of TMEC for five years. TMEC is very small compare to the size of the commercial foreign-invested wafer fabrication.
Microelectronics is regarded as the upstream part of ECTI (Electronic, Computer, Telecommunication and Information) industries. However, as Thailand is late in getting the boost from the government, it is important to leap-frog to a suitable microelec tronic technology with a modern 0.5 micron production line on 6-inch wafer (for TMEC). TMEC wil have a production capacity of 500 wafers per month while the commercial fab will have to be at least 30,000 wafers (8 inch) per month, and may require 0.35 mi cron technology or even better.
It is expected that TMEC will be busy with research and development in IC processing, training of personnel and provide small-volume production and serving universities in a series Multi-Chip Projects. TMEC will be a strategic partner of the IC-Design Network which has established in Thailand for over a year. TMEC’s ultimate goal is to make Thailand a center of microelectronic industry wuth full line of IC design business, wafer fabrication plants and related supporting industries . These are all ba dly needed for the survival of Thailand’s electronic industry.
As the whole world is in need of more than 15 new wafer fabrication, it is expected that Thailand will attracted three of them. World-leaders in microelectronics are being contacted by a special committee appointed to conduct an invitation road-show to invitees.
With the pictures of the parts, we believe that Thailand is well served by NECTEC/NSTDA and the National IT Committee in building the whole picture of ECTI for the country. There are many other project which cannot be described in this article, but th ey will add to the completeness of the picture. For example: the solar cell development project, Thailand Integrated Water Resource Management Network, Cluster Computing and networked GIS clearing house. These are parts of the movement for New Economy f or Thailand.
There are many key players involved in the readiness for Thailand's real sector to move into New Economy. The players are in both in the public sectors and it the private sectors. With better governance and strict election process, we all expect Thai land to have more transparency. This will make the development projects move a lot faster than in the past.
[About the Authors]
Dr. Thaweesak "Hugh" Koanantakool is the Director of National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), Ministry of Science, Technology and Env ironment.
Dr. Chadamas Thuvasethakul is the Director of the Office of the Secretariat to the National Information Committee at NECTEC. She also serves as secretary for IT Project under the initiaves of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.