CommunicAsia 2007, Singapore

CommunicAsia held every June in Singapore is the region’s formative ICT exhibition & conference offering show casing the latest in digital innovations. With over 2,400 exhibitors from 65 countries, this year's CommunicAsia being held in Singapore (Expo & Suntech) from 19th to 21st June is all about digital convergence and interactive digital media (IDM). CommunicAsia2007 show cases a wide spectrum of technology such as 3G/GPRS/HSDPA, Broadband Wireless, WiFi & WiMAX, IPTV, Mobile and Fixed Wireless Technologies, Next Generation Networks etc. Running parallel to CommunicAsia 2007 is BroadcastAsia 2007, CG Overdrive 07 and iX2007.

By Suchit Nanda @ Singapore. 21st June 2007


Entrance and registration to CommunicAsia 2007

As a reflection of the growing synergy between the media and infocomm, visitors to CommunicAsia2007 witnessed the next wave of convergent technologies and applications.
At his opening speech for CommunicAsia, Lee Boon Yang, Singapore Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, officially announced the pilot launch of the Digital Concierge service which is a joint program by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore and Singapore Tourism Board. Digital Concierge offers location-based information for tourists through handheld devices like mobile phones and PDAs.

Backed by a strong support for Wireless@SG - a free WiFi service across Singapore which crossed 5,000 hotspots in September 2006. To date, about 4,30,000 people have subscribed to this free unlimited Wi-Fi service. Also announced was that Singapore’s plan for a next-generation national wired broadband network is also on track for completion by 2012. At the imbX2007, Dr. Lee Boon Yang, said that the progress of its 10-year infocomm technology (ICT) masterplan is on track, and announced new initiatives targeting tourism and small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) called Infocomm@SME. The program seeks to assist these companies in exploring how technology can change the way they do business. He said: "Last year, I told you about Singapore's ICT Masterplan iN2015. Since then, a number of programs and initiatives had been rolled out collectively by the government and industry...We have made progress. But this is still early days and we have much to be done."

In conjunction with CommunicAsia, the CG Overdrive 2007 (Computer Graphics) show is being held during the same period. Recognizing the growth potential of IDM, the Singapore Government has committed S$0.5 billion to fund research and development in this sector last year.
The Singapore-MIT game lab, GAMBIT (Gamers, Aesthetics, Mechanics, Business, Innovation, Technology), was set up to teach game design and construction. EON Reality, an international 3D software provider, will be locating its EONExperience lab in Singapore's soon-to-be-ready Fusionopolis. This facility will showcase the latest 3D and holographic display tools for business and training needs.

As I walked the show floor, the first thing that hit me was the long Que. Clearly this show is very popular. As soon as one entered, I saw the Nokia Siemens Network booth. If this is a surprise, then you missed out on the news that Nokia and Siemens had already merged as a 50-50 venture their mobile and fixed-line phone network equipment businesses. While Siemens' bring its network business expertise Nokia gets their carrier-related operations into this venture.

Some of the interesting things see:

1) Sony Ericsson to soon launch Walkman with motion sensor
Sony Ericsson today announced a total of six new handsets.
What was interesting was the announcement and show casing of motion-sensitive features on the new Walkman phone (W910i). While motion-sensitive capabilities are not new in the market and there are other such as Samsung (SGH-E760), Nokia (5500 Sport) and Mitsubishi (D904i) that already have had it what was new was the feel & interface. Shake the phone while holding down the Walkman key and it will randomly select a track from the playlist. Shake it forward or backwards to skip tracks forward or backward or just by flicking the handset. Rocking the phone back and forth will shuffle the playlist. Pretty cool. The phone also has a 5 Megapixel camera and some of the other standard features. The company also announced some interesting new things like external GPS enabler and three new Bluetooth watches.

2) Innoxius Technologies which is a Singapore-based company announced the launch of what could possibly be the world's first mobile TV-enabler device for Wi-Fi networks.
The enabler device is an adapter that plugs into the LAN port of a wireless access point and turns it into a DVB-H repeater for Wi-Fi-enabled handhelds. DVB-H is a technical specification for broadcasting on handheld devices. The company will shortly begin commercial and technical studies of mobile broadcasting in the island-state of Singapore. In February this year, Innoxius also partnered with ChungHwa Widebank Best Network to conduct similar trials in Taichung and Tainan, Taiwan. Edmund Yong, Chief Technology Officer of Innoxius Technologies said that by enabling Wi-Fi access points as repeaters for the DVB-H signal, the company can tap into a larger consumer base that is using Wi-Fi-enabled handhelds.

3) Samsung's fashion phone
Samsung show cased the Ultra Edition II series of slim handsets. Also shown were a mobile phones with a unique touch-sensitive OLED directional pad.

There were a number of phones from Samsung on display. Samsung has positioned itself to the mid to high end market in the mobile phones space. Taking center stage was the Ultra Edition II series announced earlier. The Ultra series broke a few records for thinness when it was first launched but the Korean company won't rest on those laurels. Included in the Ultra Edition II are the U600 and U700 models, which measure just 10.9mm and 12.1mm in thicknesses, respectively. The extra 1.2mm thickness in the U700 gives it 3G with HSDPA connectivity for high-speed downloads over the cellular network. Other than the Ultra Edition, Samsung booth had on display the Prada series in its fashion phones segment. The SGH-E950 is a slider model with a metal finish and a touchscreen front face. Under the main display, the touch-sensitive directional pad is an OLED display. This phone will be available in July all over Southeast Asia.

4) LG continues to Shine at CommunicAsia
Mobile phone companies tried everything in the books to grab attention. From pretty models to sleep handsets. Arguably one of the more glamorous booths at this year's CommunicAsia was LG which went all out to showcase its Shine series of mobile phones. With breakdancing performances and girls dressed as manaquins in silver paint.

At display was the LG KU250 which was awarded the title of GSM Association's official 3G handset for 2007 earlier this year. According to LG, this is expected to cost about 30% less than the typical entry-level 3G phone and will provide more users the chance to experience 3G services in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The KU250 is expected to be available across the region from June onwards.

The China-based telecommunications company Huawei launched 3G handsets at CommunicAsia. The company announced that it is undergoing talks with operators in the region to launch an entry-level handset which may cost under US$100.

A rather strange presence was of NTT’s DoCoMo since neither do they have a presence or service outside of Japan and nor are they planning anything immediately. What was interesting though was how the Japs have all the fun! Although meant for Japan's CDMA market, NTT DoCoMo's D800iDS uses a innovative dual-screen design instead of a conventional keypad. The D800iDS' lower screen is touch-sensitive for menu selection and control. Also shown was how the phone could be used to make mico-payments and how the phone would the centre of the world for a variety of services. Of all the mobile companies vying for attention it was hard to make a choice if one had to.

5) Yahoo! Go for Mobile 2.0 launch
Yahoo! announced at CommunicAsia that the beta version of Go for Mobile 2.0 will be available on 22nd July, 2007 in 13 Asia countries. The list of countries includes India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand where Go for Mobile 2.0 will be available. Go for Mobile 2.0 contains a suite of services such as email support, content search and photo-sharing site Flickr. Also included is oneSearch, a mobile search service that provides a refined search experience by giving users the answers to queries rather than a series of Web links. The company said it has also signed partnership agreements with six mobile operators to bring the mobile search platform to the Philippines, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan.

According to David Ko, vice president and general manager for Connected Life Asia at Yahoo! about 500 million people visit Yahoo!'s homepage every month. Its partnership with the six mobile operators in the region is expected to increase the combined subscriber base in Asia to approximately 100 million. He added that the oneSearch service will enable users to more easily find the answers they want, as well as generate revenue streams for operators since the users are more likely continue using the service.

6) Eubiqu’s power sockets
Although we use power points, cords and socket, we simply take them for granted. Eubiqu has developed a rather interesting product range.
Fit a power track on the wall and you can add power sockets of your choice anywhere on the track by just twisting them into their place. The shock-proof sockets are very elegantly designed and slide over the track to place them close to where they are needed. This does give a very trendy and slick look. The neat looking tracks almost looks like a design element of the wall – at least until you plug the socket you need and voila! It turns into your power source.

7) Garmin to expand in Asia
Walking to the Garmin booth I got into a conversation with Mr. H.M.Lu, Senior Manager. Garmin which designs, manufactures, and markets navigation and communications equipment has been around for a long time (started out in 1989 with a handful of design engineers).
Famous for its GPS (Global Position System) products that are either handheld or connected to say your car, they have guidance to show you were you are located on the planet as long as you have line of site with the open sky (so that it can read this free data from the satellites above). So far there were no detailed maps available for India so that meant that you would know which latitude and longitude you were presently at but not know which street or locality you were in but all this is about to change. Mr. Lu informed that in 3 week’s time Garmin is going to release detailed maps for about 6 to 7 major cities of India including the metros. Going forward in 3 months they will release the major road national road/rail networks, lakes, shorelines etc. and thereafter keep following it up with detailed maps for many more cities. This is good news for those who love to drive or move in India but so far were limited to just knowing which city they were present in. Finally India’s will get at least some detailed maps. Interestingly already many innovative users have exported the Garmin GPS information to PC and imported this into software such as Google Earth to get great detailed view (satellite images). Same can be done with GPS handphones which have net connectivity and browsing capability. Soon street directions (one ways, no entries etc.) will be also available along with street names and important places and locations.

8) Blue Coat Systems, Inc
Blue Coat is provides secure content and application delivery. Using a combine of hardware and software tools, Blue Coat SG appliances accelerate the delivery of Internet applications and content across Wide Area Network (WAN). Seeing the potential in India especially where networks speeds are low and costs are fairly high for international and national backbone, Blue Coat sees an opportunity. With this in mind, they have setup an office in Bangalore and soon to follow with one in Delhi and Mumbai. At this stage these offices will be for sales, marketing and support and development isn't being considered in the immediate future. As one of the leaders in the secure content and application delivery field, Blue Coat has large customers in Asia such as Kagoshima University, The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and now Singapore University.

9) Aztech PC-less Skype DECT phones also caught my attention. With VoIP being a popular way to cut long distance costs, the hassle of a PC and fidgeting with the speaker and mic can be done away with using the Skype phone.

The Aztech cordless phone works with any Internet connection (64Kbps and above is better) to make free Skype to Skype calls and also to make Skype out calls to regular land lines and mobile phones. Since the cost of a Skype Out call to say US or Canada or Europe is just $0.01 per minute (which is roughly Rs. 1 per minute!) now calling long distance is no longer an expensive exercise nor is it a hassle.

In the end it was a tiring 3-days but great fun to see all the new gizmos and tools. A free massage was very welcome by many and a popular corner. Rather than bore you folks to death with all the details of every idiosyncratic product & service that was on offer, I have decided to filter out and highlight just the most innovative and outstanding products. Saw some good enterprise stuff at the show that will keep the CIO and CTOs busy for a while. The buzz this year was around IPTV. Globally IPTV continues to grab attention as strategy analytics in their survey estimates that the total number of connected IPTV households capable of viewing some form of IPTV will grow from 5.8 million in 2006 to over 80 million by 2011. There were a number of companies offering products and services in the IPTV space. Also of interest was WiMAX where now we are able to see products being showed and deployed in the real world. Touted as the next big thing, wireless broadband continues to draw a lot of attention. There is a large opportunity for both fixed and mobile WiMAX offerings in the urban as well as rural areas. Fitting somewhere in this matrix is the Indian company Midas which had its booth and was showing their CorDECT and rural telephony products. Didn’t see that great an interest but I’m sure the not so affluent countries would be interested in it. It’s a good product for a specific purpose although the high speed Internet of upto 128Kbps is a joke. As for WiMAX, there are still some stumbling blocks such as frequency allocation and user density surveys to be done but its getting there and surely a new technology to track and expect in the near future. As a promising technology – this is surely it and the technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we connect. However, most including Singapore which is fairly tech savvy isn’t waiting. Under the “Wireless@SG” initiative of iDA they have already deployed over five thousand of WiFi hotspots all over the island country of Singapore and since December 2006 offer absolutely free access to 512Kbps Internet in major parts of Singapore. Included in this initiative of wireless broadband programme is an aim to connect schools to form the “Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015)” as a ten year masterplan to develop the next generation (NG) infocomm.

India has a lot to learn not only from Singapore but also from others like Korea. With a broadband household penetration rate of over 80 percent, South Korea is often hailed as one of the most wired nations in the world. All Internet users in South Korea use broadband services--there is no more dial-up access. Highlighting the role of the South Korean government as a key driver of broadband services, Bureau said the government has been aggressive in spearheading broadband adoption since the 1990s. "They've put in large amounts of money, not just in infrastructure but also in applications and content development," he noted. The government has also adopted other creative ways to boost broadband adoption, including a system that rates buildings based on the availability of broadband services to households. "If you meet certain criteria and your building is qualified, you get tax breaks and your apartment prices will also get higher," Bureau said, adding that South Korea's high population density has also made it cheaper and more efficient to build broadband networks. Bureau also said that the liberalization of South Korea's telecommunications market in the 1990s brought down voice revenues, which in turn led many service providers to look at broadband as a new growth area. "Broadband became one of the services where competition was fierce, so prices went down and availability was increased," he said. The emergence of the Internet cafes, or "PC bangs" as they are called in South Korea, also helped trigger the country's broadband market. "When Korea went through an economic crisis during the 1990s, people found themselves without a job," Bureau said. "So, they went to the Internet cafes looking for jobs and when the economy recovered, they realized that they also wanted to have broadband at home." Internet cafes in South Korea continue to stay relevant to broadband users, even as most people have high-speed Internet access at home. Bureau said this is because PC gamers still prefer the community nature of PC bangs, and will head down to one to play games with their friends. Interesting similarity to the Indian Cyber Cafe stories but still a long, long way to go.  

Official websites:

~ Suchit Nanda, Singapore, 21st, June, 2007

All pictures copyright Suchit Nanda. Shot with Nikon D200 DSLR camera with lens: Nikkor 18-200mm, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, SB-800 flash.