The next great leap forward in internet technology is handheld devices. And in this respect Thailand, I’m afraid, is still putting its boots on. Not for nothing was the phone launch such a big deal, within a couple of years we’ll all be surfing ‘on the go’ when 3G and WiMAX are rolled out. Just imagine, a tourist on the back of an elephant in Mae Rim could be searching Google for an evening restaurant, so it’s certainly going to change the way users and businesses benefit from the internet. Here’s the difference between the two. 3G is an extension of the existing mobile network, transmitting far higher packets of data, making web-surfing on your phone more realistic. You’ll be able to instantly upload video clips of your drunken mates, from your phone onto YouTube.
WiMAX on the other hand is a city-wide version of Wi-Fi, whereby you’ll be able to subscribe to wireless access well beyond the comfort zone of WiMAX and 3G – ultimately mobilityNimmanheamin’s ‘coffee stand’. Both have their practical uses. WiMAX is more capital intensive but suits laptop surfing better and will be put to best use substituting landline broadband, particularly over the ‘last mile’ in outlying neighbourhoods. In theory it will break the ISPs’ monopoly and offer you more choice (for better service). 3G is likely to get the nod first here due to the Thais’ obsession with the mobile phone lifestyle. Although countries like Korea have had the advantage of 3G for years, Thailand is lagging behind thanks to untransparent licensing, indecision over frequency use and musical chairs at the ICT ministry. In short, divvying up the corruption windfall is proving more complicated than they thought. Only the cash strapped Thai mobile has a licence so far, meanwhile a WiMAX test in Chiang Mai in 2008 worked well until three or more users logged on simultaneously. When we can all afford to start buying a phone, you can imagine a whole nation of people wandering around talking to a video phone camera held at arms length in front of them!