Making Thailand an ICT producer (The Nations)


Making Thailand an ICT producer

By Supot Tiarawut
Published on April 12, 2011

On the streets these days, most of the youngsters you see will be carrying around at least one mobile or smart phone. They are at the forefront of new communication technologies, sending text messages, downloading music, uploading pictures and always staying connected to their friends via social networks.

It seems to be unacknowledged, that their use of these tools of convenience has been enabled by a huge investment in telecommunication infrastructure, and that behind the innovative applications lies the work of many creative minds.

Thailand has always been a consumer of new telecommunications technologies. Last year, the telecommunications market was valued at Bt383 billion, representing 3.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP). Of this, the market for telecom equipment was valued at around Bt134 billion, and is expected to grow by 11.7 per cent this year. Almost all of these products are imported, and although Thailand is a major manufacturing base for electrical and electronic products, telecommunications equipment is a category that poses a major trade deficit. As Thailand is expanding its basic telecom infrastructure for universal broadband access, this will put an even greater burden on the Thai economy.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) established the Telecommunications Research and Industrial Development Institute (Tridi – pronounced Tri-D) in 2007, with the aim of promoting research and development, industry development and human-resources development in telecommunications.

Tridi’s role is to create collaboration between researchers in universities and private companies, operators and service providers. To achieve the objective of building a manufacturing industry in telecommunications, Tridi has initiated a comprehensive range of support measures, including:

Product research grants, or funding for research and development with the goal of creating new product prototypes;

  •  Advanced research grants for research involving advanced technical knowledge with the goal of applying for patents;
  •  Establishment of the NTC Telecommunications Research Laboratory, and funding for telecommunications research laboratories and excellence groups in 11 leading universities;
  •  The Telecommunication Innovation Awards and Exhibition – a competition to recognise innovative products that have been created by outstanding local companies or researchers, aimed at creating awareness of local manufacturing capabilities;
  • IP protection and management, including support for filing patent applications and close collaboration with researchers in commercialising or licensing the outcomes of research.

In the field of human-resources development, Tridi has granted scholarships for studying master’s and doctoral degrees in local universities with research topics in telecommunications.

Over the past three years, Tridi has granted funding to 26 research and development projects with a clear focus on results and commercial orientation.

Backed by Tridi funding, several products will be launched this year. Currently on sale are 3G repeaters made by a Thai manufacturer that extend the coverage of mobile services at lower cost than normal base stations. Another product now available from a Thai developer is software for measuring the quality of services in 2G and 3G mobile networks.

Five more products will be launched later this year, in RFID technology, optical communications and mobile applications.

On the academic side, Mahidol University’s research centre in biomedical engineering has created a brain-computer interface system that can help people with physical disabilities to control electrical appliances and to communicate with other people. Tridi has helped to file a number of patent applications and to find partners to further develop and commercialise the initial prototype.

These cases provide proof that Thai researchers and entrepreneurs are capable of creating innovative high-technology ICT products. The only thing now is for Thai people and the government to become aware of our potential and to constantly support home-grown products.

In June, Tridi will take Thai companies to showcase their ICT products at CommunicAsia 2011 in Singapore. Hopefully, you will soon see people on our streets boasting new Thai-made ICT products. And Thailand will become well known around the world as an ICT producer, and not just as an ICT consumer.

Supot Tiarawut is director of the Telecommunications Research and Industrial Development Institute (Tridi).


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