Originator: sct@nucleus.nectec.or.th

Thailand gearing up for Information Superhighway
by Kamol Hengkietisak

"Information Highway" or "Information 
Superhighway" is now a buzz word among the technological savvy in 
this country. But what is it? And what does it mean to ordinary 
business people?

The blunt answer is; "Not much".

Then why should we pay attention to this trend?
Right now, it might not mean much to the ordinary executive who 
still relies on print for their insight and decision-making.

Yet, a considerable number of people from all walks of life are 
becoming increasingly dependent on electronic information.

Thailand's electronic information revolution began several years 
ago when PacLink began offering paging services to Bangkokians 
which was later expanded to cover the whole country. It was joined 
several years later by PhoneLink, which dominated the paging 
market within one year due to its easy three-digit dial-up number 
while the pioneer had to contend with the old seven-digit dial-up 
number which they would later change to a four-digit number.

 PacLink and PhoneLink were later joined by other paging service 
providers, Hutchison PagePhone and EasyCall. 

Initially, only telephone numbers (numeric) could be paged but 
later all the service providers offered text (alpha-numeric) in 
Thai and English. The four existing service providers were granted 
licences by either the Telephone Organisation of Thailand (TOT) 
[PhoneLink, Hutchison PagePhone, EasyCall] or the Communications 
Authority of Thailand (CAT) [PacLink].

The fifth pager provider will be granted by the Post and Telegraph 
Department for Government personnel. The Department is in the 
process of drafting the terms of reference for bidding.
Business information providers: The TOT did not only grant 
concessions to pager service providers, it also granted 
concessions to other providers of electronic data, notably the 
DataNet which is a joint venture between Shinawatra Group and 
Singapore Telecom.

DataNet makes it possible to use the existing dial-up telephone 
lines to be data lines, while users retain the use of their voice 
lines. The technology was provided by AT&T using the equipment 
called "Voice Data Multiplexer" at both the users' end and at the 
TOT's telephone exchanges throughout Bangkok.

Since the leased line (data line) is a scarce commodity as the TOT 
cannot keep up with the demand, DataNet has provided a valuable 
service indeed to the electronic information revolution in 

Apart from point-to-point connection, DataNet offers "broadcasting 
service" where a user's message can be broadcast to several points 
simultaneously. This proves a boon to several users such as the 
Stock Exchange of Thailand, commercial banks, finance companies 
and other "business information providers" including Biznews and 
Reuters which provide real-time business information.

Biznews was the pioneer in the field of real-time business 
information in this country. Apart from stock and other business 
information from both domestic and overseas sources, Biznews also 
provides domestic political news in both Thai and English as 
politics does affect domestic and foreign investment.

 The newcomer on the scene is Reuter which is linked with INN 
(Independent News Network), a subsidiary of Crown Property Bureau, 
to provide more or less the same service as Biznews. 

Biznews is strong on the local news angle with Reuter stronger on 
the foreign front. However, the dominant player is still Biznews 
due to its longer history and greater local news coverage.

 While Biznews and Reuters rely on DataNet as the medium to 
broadcast its news, the newcomer Comline is set to offer its 
interactive service news and information this September to users 
using a personal computer equipped with modems to dial in through 
an ordinary phone line. 

 Lines Technology (Thailand) Co, which operates Comline, is a 
subsidiary of Telecom Holding which is in turn a subsidiary of 
TelecomAsia (TA) whose majority stake is held by the CP Group. 
Lines Technology has received a concession from the TOT to operate 
the service. 

Since TA will be installing two million phone lines in Bangkok, 
Lines Technology should experience little trouble securing as many 
telephone lines as it wishes to operate its dial-up interactive 
news service.

The company said that it had already invested over 20 million baht 
to set up the system and that it plans to spend an additional 30 
million baht to complete the installation and provide the real- 
time interactive service. The company is in the process of 
securing cooperation from various news providers including the 
print media.

Meanwhile, the traditional pager service providers are also 
extending real-time information service covering stock quotes, 
news and airline information. Both PhoneLink and Hutchison 
PagePhone are offering these added services for users whose pagers 
can display both numbers and the alphabet (alpha-numeric).

Information Superhighway:
The name Information Superhighway conjures up images of a vast 
network in which users can access endless streams of information. 
Such a term is not applicable by all electronic information 
service providers in Thailand at present as they provide a limited 
scope of information, mostly concentrating on business 

So what really is the Information Superhighway?

The term is believed to originate from US Vice-President Al Gore's 
idea of building the superstructure of a high-speed 
telecommunications network capable of displaying voice, data and 
video to every organisation, business and ultimately, to ordinary 

Vice-President Gore appointed a committee to outline 
recommendations to implement such a project in the US as it is 
acknowledged it has a competitive edge in this technology while 
other developed countries of the EU and Japan still lag far 

The preliminary report suggested that the present "Internet" be 
upgraded to provide more bandwidth (higher capacity) by building a 
very high-speed national network capable of sending information at 
the speed of 100 Megabits per second or about 10 million 
characters per second. The network backbone will comprise fibre- 
optic networks linking major cities throughout the country.

The higher the speed, the larger the volume that the network can 
carry, which means that real-life video could be transmitted if 
traffic allowed.

Thailand's Information Superhighway: As Internet is recognised as 
the "mother of all networks", it links all universities and 
research organisations in the United States and overseas. It also 
provides links to other commercial networks such as CompuServe, 
America-On-Line, GEnie etc. For this reason, Internet is 
recognised as the world's largest provider of all kinds of 
electronic information available either free or on a pay-per- 
access basis.

Presently, there are more than 23,000 networks linking millions of 
computers in 130 countries connected to Internet. The growth rate 
of world-wide Internet usage is nearly 10% monthly.

The local Biznews, Reuters and the upcoming ComLine may provide 
less than 0.000,0001% of what is available out there via Internet.

Fortunately, Thailand has had full access to Internet since 1992 
when THAISARN (The Thailand Social/scientific, Academic and 
Research Network) was founded. Starting from pure academic and 
research communities, it now reaches more than 27 sites in 
Thailand, including Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Songkhla (see list 
of participating organisations).

THAISARN, the Internet of Thailand, was established and funded by 
the Government and is currently coordinated by NECTEC (The 
National Electronics and Computer Technology), Ministry of 
Science, Technology and Environment.

Apart from universities and Government personnel, THAISARN network 
users now trickle down to private universities, schools and the 
general public -- the latter on an individual basis.

The traffic of information passing in and out of the country via 
Internet registered 6,371 million characters in February this 
year, compared with only 603 million characters during the same 
month last year. The data flow growth rate was more than 1,000%.
Public access to Internet in Thailand:  NECTEC was the first 
organisation to allow the general public to become members with 
nominal fees of about 500 baht a month since January 1, 1994. 

 Since access to the internationally leased line is governed by 
CAT, which would not normally allow the sharing of international 
bandwidth, NECTEC is operating under special provisions including 
the prohibition of bandwidth sales. 

 For this reason, NECTEC cannot charge the individual public users 
the real cost. Users pay only for the maintenance of the equipment 
and system while NECTEC shoulders the full cost of the leased line 
to the tune of over one million baht a year. 

Effectively speaking, public users are subsidised by NECTEC. 
However, these "qualified individuals" have paid substantial taxes 
to the Government. In addition, their access to Internet would 
make them even more productive and allow higher incomes for 
themselves and their organisations, which would in turn result in 
higher taxes for the Government.

Initially, NECTEC's Network Technology Laboratory (NTL) offered 
about 10 dial-up phone lines, while waiting for more lines from 
the TOT. Starting next month up to 40 lines will be made available 
as TOT finishes installing the requested lines.

 Another source for public individual users who want to join 
Internet is through Assumption University (AU), formerly known as 
Assumption Business Administration College (ABAC). 

TelecomAsia last week began installing 360 telephone lines at AU 
to be exclusively used by the general public to access Internet. 
The same criteria will be used to screen applications, i.e., the 
non-commercial applicant must be individually engaged in education 
and research, according to Prof Srisakdi Charmonman, chairman of 
the Internet Network Committee at Assumption University.

Interested parties may contact NECTEC at 248-8078-84 or (fax) 247- 
1335. For Assumption University, the numbers are 719-1586-89 or 
(fax) 719-1590 and 719-0484.

See also Information Superhighway Testbed Project Homepage.