Wednesday, March 10, 2010

High speed is not just a luxury

I was interested to see news about a Harvard University study panning Canadian Internet services a week ago or so. The Conservative policy wonks better wake up because Canada is at risk of sliding even further behind as Asia comes on-stream.

In northern Thailand we saw posters everywhere vying for mobile subscribers: 2mbps connections were being touted as passé, with 4mbps the new standard—and promises of 10mbps from some providers. This is for mobile networks, so these are speeds people are getting used to on their portable devices!

What bothers me is that people here in SE Asia seem to understand how they can take advantage of this capacity far more than Canadians do. Sure, we have slick web sites and no overt blocking of information, but how many Canadians are really changing their habits to take advantage of the technology?

My sense is that many Canadians are complacent, and have an erroneous view that we are still world leaders in this field. Most now have a sufficiently fast connection to see their friends on Facebook, and just grumble if a provider puts a cap on to make a downloaded “Desperate Housewives” show more expensive.

Mobile services are just as bad: how long will Canadians have to accept complicated plans, locked-in providers and a system incompatible with the rest of the world?

Here, people are integrating their mobile and Internet services to make things work.

Wherever we’ve been here, there are dozens of options for tourists to participate in tours and activities. Hotels get commissions for providing booking services for tours, yet keep guests happy because the prices are competitive and they pay attention to feedback. We told our Hanoi hotel in the evening that the Halong Bay trip they’d helped us book had been a disappointment. The next morning, they’d already talked to the operator—and told us that our USD20 taxi to the airport would be complimentary. They cooperate here, and use the Internet to facilitate it. It also means that attractions and services like regional airlines can run at near capacity because everyone is an agent; our one-hour flight in a 737-200 jet was only ~USD40 each, and we booked only 2 days before our departure via our hotel.

People here are using capacity to make things work more smoothly, and they will not just sit around and let the telecommunications infrastructure languish. The game is changing and I don’t think many Canadians are aware that it is even in play...