Technical changes -- and institutional changes

Four years ago, it was not simple for a Vietnamese firm to use fax machines to communicate with customers in other parts of Vietnam or abroad. Today, the international service is both easily accessible and technicall y reliable. The overseas telephone lines have greatly improved by direct satellite links. Still, it is sometimes quicker and more convenient to pick up a phone in Hanoi for direct-dial calls to a small town in Australia or Sweden than t o call a mid- sized city in Vietnam.

However, the qualities of these services are now i mproving; the customers in both government and industry are receiving better telecom services inside the country. But they are still waiting for practical possibilities of transferring large batches of electronic dat a through the telephone lines or by radio between the small and medium-sized cities around the country. The big cities plus the two metropolitan areas (aro und Hanoi and HCM City) are much better connected.

Among the highly-industrialized countries, massive investme nts in R&D for microelectronics and telecommunications from at least the mid-1970's until today have changed the technological foundations for modern telecom- munications. So have program controlled switching systems, requiring less maintenance and permitting continuous adjustments to new functions and services including the transfer of voice, data, text and image s and various combinations of them. Satellites and optical fibers have per mitted enormous increases in capacity and helped decrease transfer costs. Withi n just a few years, it is expected that band-widths and other transfer capacit ies will grow much further.

Changes in ownership and alterations in the control of telecommunica- tions facilities plus a further commercialization of some of the services have opened the telecom infrastructure to new user groups and paved the way for important functional adjustments of national and world -wide telecom infrastructures. A similar development is now being planned in Vietnam. The DGPT, the Vietnamese telecom agency, has already been divided into functional "groups", which are supposed to function relatively independently of each other. However, the organizational reform of the DGPT has just begun and the real outcome for the telecom customers is unclear. Before radical reforms, the government should study in detail both positive and negative experiences in other countries that have already undertaken similar changes of their telecom authority.

The technological foundation of a National Information Infrastructure (NII) in Vietnam requires a whole series of improvements of the data communications networks, databases, fully-automatic switches, etc. It is our impression that the DGPT of Vietnam is moving in this direction. Given the current level of technology installed, it will be a long way to go, but experi- ments in areas such as data communications has indicated that changes could be implemented fast and relatively smoothly.

At present, three major wide area networks are being considered: One for the government, which is planned by the Government Office in coopera- tion with different ministries and provincial governments; one for the institutions of research and education, which is the so-called VAREnet (Viet- nam's academic, research, and educational data communications network) and is planned by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment in coop- eration with other ministries and the Institute of Information Technology (within the National Center for Natural Science and Technology); and one data communications network for the bank and credit institutions, which should permit on-line payments and the use of credit cards as well as plastic cards for teller machines.

For the Vietnamese telecom services, the economically most important development in the near future might be the creation of open data communi- cations networks, which would facilitate connections between the three wide area networks under planning. Once the national networks and similar techni- cal improvements are in place, these services can develop and proliferate. There may easily be more commercial data communications services such as for EDI (Electronic Document Interchange), a service which is already needed by some Vietnamese service firms.

If a Vietnamese version of a NII could be established along with the three wide area networks, the users in industry and elsewhere would benefit from an abundance of advanced information services easily available world- wide. Given that the government will adhere to the principle of 'open networks' this may improve the country's resources and innovative capabilities enor-mously. By 'open networks' is meant large, connected wide-

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This data connection, which is the backbone of VAREnet, has be en funded by Australian sources since early 1992. It is administrated on an experiment al basis and may continue until the Internet services are made easily accessible to a ny Vietnamese end user. In the first phase of this experiment, the software used was largely that available in the UNIX environment, in particular ftp, mail, the UNIX editors, and page viewers. Lately a full UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy) network co nnection was established to provide both electronic mail services and file transfe r, and, more importantly, to automate the network. See the next section of this chapter for further details.

FE More recently, Internet clients in Vietnam have been offered a thi rd option, which might also become convenient for daily use. It requires a joining fe e, a monthly subscription plus a data volume charge. By calling a local number a sw itch is made available that will permit interactive data communication on the Internet and on other international networks. It is called the VIETPAC (Vietnam's Packet Switch Data Network) and is a data communications service implemented by a j oint venture between Vietnam's DGPT (the Directorate-General of Post and Teleco mmunications) and the Australian Telstra OTC International. In fact, VIETPAC is an extension of telecom services offered in Australia.

The VIETPAC dial-up service (on X.28 with a maximum speed o f 2400 bps) can be substituted by a dedicated line, leased from the DGPT. Later, this service may operate on X.25 at speeds up to 9600 bps. In this manner, the VIETPAC will eventually allow access to the major international data communications net works.

On April 4, 1994, prime minister Kiet of Vietnam and prime minister Bildt of Sweden exchanged email messages via Internet. It was the first time a senior government official in Hanoi used the Internet as a tool for inter- governmental communication. It was also a significant symbolic act. The Vietnamese premier was probably one of the first political leaders in a developing country to communicate on the Internet. Vietnam formally joined the Internet organization in April 1994, which means that the country's data communications users are able to access services on the Internet, including email. Eventually, the users will also communicate via a national gateway. Looking ahead to the provision of the Internet Proto-col in Hanoi, five Internet domain names for Vietnam have already been registered with the Internet authorities:

FE gov.vn to government institutions

FE ac.vn to research institutions

FE edu.vn to educational institutions

FE com.vn to commercial enterprises

FE org.vn to other organizations

The Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MOST E) is the Internet administrative contact, while the Institute of Informati on Technology (see the next section of this chapter) is the Internet technical contact. At present, the Australian National University acts as the primary name server

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