National and world-wide electronic mail

Since about two years, Vietnam has been accessible by electronic mail (email) through the Internet. In the beginning it was just a handful of users in Hanoi, all linked by modem to the Institute of Information Technology, which is functioning as the national node until a more permanent organization is in place in 1994. Electronic mail is one of many services offered through the international Internet, which is one of the major data communications 'network of wide-area networks' accessible to private and public users in virtually all countries. There are other international electronic mail systems as well, e.g., CompuServe, America Online, and GEnie, which are now accessible to user in Vietnam.

Some data communications firms operating also in Vietnam, seem to have already achieved a relatively wide usage of their services in Vietnam. However, says an Australian observer, none of the network facilities offered has reliable Internet connectivity, although some use services with Internet gateways, such as CompuServe. Once a well-functioning Internet gateway is in place, it would provide an Internet connection for these networks.

In the first half of 1994, the Intemet data communications services could be reached by the Vietnamese end user through three types of channels:

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

In early 1992, as a pioneering effort, the Institute of Information Technology began conducting an experimental link to the Internet through the Australian National University. The link was implemented using the public switched telephone (voice) network (PSTN), with calls initiated and paid for in Australia. Later, a SCO Unix system was provided to the Institute by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MOSTE), and this enabled a Hanoi end of the UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy) link to be established.

Along with the first data communications experiments at the Institute of Information Technology, work was commenced towards the establishment of a national wide-area network. It was decided to use the public domain software WAFFLE and its UUCP capabilities. (1) During the early stages of the experiment, the use of WAFFLE was very limited, largely because of the lack of telephone lines to the Hanoi offices and, in practice, much of the email and file delivery within Hanoi and vicinity was accomplished by motor-bike. There were a number of complaints from customers collecting their email messages from the Institute of Information Technology, and this had reduced the number significantly. Email users remained only a small group. It seems as if the lack of telephone line and modem capacity was the major cause of the problems.

The dial-up connection (PSTN) used in the early part of this experiment provided two services: The first one offered data file transfers (using the UUCP suite of programs). The second service was the most popular: Electronic mail (email) links with an Internet address (all addresses were "hanoi@coombs.anu.edu.au", and were sorted in Hanoi). There were more email messages into Vietnam than out of the country; a typical month would have had 80 to 100 messages in and 15-20 out.

In view of the likely traffic in the second part of the 1990s, it was decided to abandon the use of the ordinary telephone network as the physical layer and turn to the X.25 packet switched link from AUSTPAC in Australia to VIETPAC in Vietnam as the improved link. (2) Although the bandwidth of this connection is small, it does provide greater reliability than the existing PSTN, and the costs of transmission are significantly reduced. Furthermore, the X.25


Foot Notes:
  1. Hurle and Thai writes in June, 1994: This decision was taken because WAFFLE will run on almost any DOS-based PC, from those using the Intel 8086 processor to the most modern 80486 and Pentium-based systems. There are many such systems available in Vietnam. WAFFLE also implements a version of UUCP and can use dial-up for its data communications, thus enabling a complete network to be built up using already existing technology. UUCP is considered a standard in the Unix networking world and, as such, is regarded as a better choice than alternatives. WAFFLE was extended by the Institute of Information Technology with the addition of some Vietnamese language facilities, and the extension of the addressing scheme to the domain name style used within I.he Internct.
  2. This upgrade of the Internet link in and out of the country was made possible by a small grant from the Australian government through the Australian National University.

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