'SMART THAILAND' PROJECT ON TRACK
Implementation of blueprint will not only increase Thailand's competitiveness but also make ICT access easierIn a bid to increase the country's competitiveness and be prepared for the Asean Economic Community in 2015, the Information and Communications Technology Ministry has rolled out the 'Smart Thailand' strategy.
Smart Thailand is part of the national ICT framework called 'ICT2020', a development blueprint for the country that will lead and guide all parts of the economy, especially the government sector, to move forward with ICT development.
Smart Thailand comprises two main parts - readiness of ICT infrastructure under the 'Smart Network' project; and readiness of government services under 'Smart Government'.
To prove the practicability of the Smart Thailand concept, the ICT Ministry, in cooperation with the Interior Ministry, will launch a pilot project called 'Smart City'.
There are several requirements for proper implementation of the 'Smart Thailand' scheme. For example, it needs the widest availability of Internet access for all people, and also afford them the devices needed to connect to the Internet.
This project requires a lot of collaboration among ministries and government organisations in each part of the scheme.
ICT Minister Anudith Nakornthap said that the objective of the Smart Thailand concept is to raise the country's competitiveness ranking in the world, empower local stakeholders such as education and business sectors to be ready for competing with other regional countries when the AEC kicks off in 2015, and to reduce the cost of using ICT for Thai people and help them use ICT to improve their quality of life.
ICT infrastructure, especially broadband network, is a key factor to become a smart country. Currently, Thailand's broadband network reaches only 33 per cent of total population. Under Smart Thailand, the government aims to expand the coverage of broadband network to 80 per cent of population in the next three years, and 95 per cent of population by the year 2020.
A company called National Broadband Network Company (NBNCo) will operate the ICT network nationwide. It will be a joint venture involving existing network operators from both government - TOT and CAT Telecom - and the private sector.
The smart network is divided into two phases. The first phase starts from this year until 2015. It will upgrade the existing telecom networks to reach 80 per cent of total population. Only 33 per cent of population can access broadband network currently.
The second phase is to invest in installing broadband network in areas where fibre-optic network is not yet available. This phase will be from 2016 until 2020. By the end of this phase, it expects broadband network to reach 95 per cent of population.
The Smart Network will be operated by a joint-venture company - NBNCo. This company is set up with the aim of reducing duplication of investment in fibre-optic networks among network and telecom operators. The joint-venture company will also aim to separate the function of installing the network from telecom services. The main duty of NBNCo is to manage and operate the network for service providers, which are telecom service providers or application service providers.
"NBNCo will focus on network implementation and it can provide network service for all service providers. Service providers will not need to have their own network. They can use the network from network service providers and pay for usage. Network operators will not need to develop services themselves as they just offer the network to service providers," said ICT Ministry permanent secretary Jeerawan Boonperm.
The two phases of developing the Smart Network would require an investment of about Bt80 billion. The Smart Network is the foundation for implementing the Smart Thailand concept and will also support Smart Government by enabling the e-government services.
Smart Government key driver
Apart from network, service is another key goal of the Smart Thailand project. The Electronics Government Agency, under the ICT Ministry, will play a key role in driving the Smart Thailand project by promoting Smart Government.
The concept of Smart Government is to turn all government services - about 800 of them - to be on the electronic platform. It is divided into four key areas - education, health, government service, and agriculture.
Smart Government was earlier known as e-government scheme. The government's back offices will be linked together to offer integrated one-stop-service. Examples of success of the e-government project are the Revenue Department's online tax service and the Passport Division's passport services.
Under the Smart Thailand scheme, the government aims to expand e-government services to be available online and to offer better quality of service by enabling the services with ICT. Therefore, this project requires collaboration among government agencies.
Smart Province is the proof
To show the practicability of the 'Smart Thailand' concept, there needs to be proof of its viability. Last week, the ICT Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with the Interior Ministry and Nakhon Nayok province to kick off the first Smart Province pilot project.
Turning the nearby province into a smart province requires the implementation of broadband Internet facilities, both wired and wireless, throughout the province. Under the MoU, TOT Corporation and CAT Telecom will be the first priority network service providers together offering the broadband network throughout the province. The province also needs the private sector to provide wireless Internet service, so that all areas of the province are covered. This is to serve both local people and tourists who visit the province. It is to facilitate people to live, work, and travel to the province with ICT facilities and e-government services.
Nakhon Nayok Governor Surachai Srisaracam said that under the plan to be a smart city, four districts will be entirely connected with broadband infrastructure, both wired and wireless, and it will offer people electronic governmental services. The aim of being a smart province is to increase the province's gross domestic product and the per capita income of the people as well as to expand the groups of people who have the potential to generate income, and finally to increase the happiness of the people. Meanwhile, it also aims to decrease the cost of governmental services.
"We plan to see Nakhon Nayok become a province where people can use government e-services with their own smart card easily, quickly, and efficiently, while tourists can enjoy their trip here with free hi-speed wireless Internet throughout the provinces. Local businesses and farmers can also get benefit from the hi-speed Internet infrastructure and availability of the government’s e-services," said Surachai.
Free Wifi scheme
Apart from fibre optic network as the main broadband network throughout the country, including in public areas such as schools, hospitals and government places, it also requires the availability of Internet connection at affordable cost or free of charge.
The ICT Ministry will initiate free Wi-Fi projects in collaboration with service providers, to offer the service in remote areas - called the last-mile areas - where fibre optic networks have not reached, and in cities throughout the country.
In the initial phase, this project aims to have 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots at public areas such as airports, public transportation venues, government offices, and universities. This facility will be provided by TOT Corporation and CAT Telecom. In the next phase, it aims to welcome private sectors to join the project and have 250,000 free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the country within the next five years.