Thailand, currently lagging Malaysia and Singapore in terms of digital connectivity, must not miss the opportunity to become an Asean leader in this respect, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said yesterday.
Thailand will achieve connectivity in the next year, and should be able to quickly become one of the very top counties in this regard, he said, adding, “I hope Thailand doesn’t blow it.”
He views Singapore at present as being more advanced than Thailand, as Internet access is widely available in the island-state, aside from a business-friendly environment and efficient administration.
Meanwhile, stable politics would be good for economic growth here, he added.
Thailand is at the point where Internet adoption is accelerating because of 3G service and rapid growth in smart-phone use. Given that mobile-phone penetration reaches 150 per cent, now is the time to get every mobile-phone user connected to the Internet, he said.
Thailand can show advancement in this area, given that it has good universities – necessary for the creation of a vibrant software application ecosystem. “It requires more software people, and you also need to have more capacity for start-ups, as well as more capital,” said the Google chief.
Schmidt also suggested that to help the Kingdom grow, regulations were needed to facilitate the creation of more companies, and more entrepreneurs. This would in turn attract new capital.
“I think it’s clear you can do it. I am surprised how much progress has been made. My first visit to Thailand was 15 years ago, and so much progress has been made since. It is a great story. I was pleasantly surprised to see how successful the automobile industry is; it is a good example [to follow],” he said.
In order to leapfrog other Asean countries, Schmidt said Thailand needed a mobile revolution, and the provision of 3G and 4G licences was crucial to the country’s development.
Next, the government should take a close look at education, as it is essential to have more engineers. Having engineers who can build software will be more and more important, he said, stressing that to be successful in software development, people also need to speak English.
“I believe Thailand has pretty smart technical people, and a good culture,” he added.
Thai citizens now have more power as a result of the spread of mobile phones and, as to the question of how Thailand should handle social media, he said: “One characteristic of this type of device is that not everyone’s voice is right. There are people who do not tell the truth. People will have their own view.”
In light of protests in Thailand that have been mobilised through social media, he urged everyone to embrace the technology with facts and ideas.
He also commended the government for its one-tablet-per-child policy, saying that was a forward-thinking idea planned in anticipation of global connectivity. It is unfortunate, however, that the Internet network is currently not as fast as the tablets themselves.
“The right thing to do in the short term is preload the tablets with educational software. Over time, when the network is faster, it should be possible to download the new version.
“Thailand is the leader in this one-tablet idea, and I think it is spreading to many other developing countries. It is a good policy for Google because when those kids become adults, they are going to be Google users,” said the executive chairman.